Just recently, I stumbled upon me, Fu Na and Huang Weiwen talking about urban villages. The video was part of Unidentified Acts of Design, an exhibition and series of eight films. The films are worth checking out again, if only because the city has already changed. To find out more about the V&A’s work in China vam.ac.uk/shekou
The second station on the Chinese side of the Kowloon-Canton Railway, Buji was an important Hakka market town that during the early years of reform was a center of manufacturing. Today, Buji is a street office (办事处) with an estimated population of over one million. Most Buji families live in an urban village and their children attend minban (民办) schools. A minban school is owned and operated by private companies, filling educational needs that are not met by the public school system. Elite minbans tend to be international and position graduates for university abroad. However, the most common type of minban school in Shenzhen is the urban village minban, which has been set up to educate children who are ineligible for a public education. The most common reason for being ineligible for a public education are hukou related; often families are not long-term residents of the city, which means their children are only eligible for public education back home, or the child was born outside the family planning policy and the parents cannot afford the fines to send the child to public school.
Today, I walked the village named Baishizhou, which is located south of Shennan Road and is not scheduled for demolition. This other, lesser known Baishizhou is tucked away behind Window of the World, middling housing estates, and the KK Banna Mall. Unlike the Baishizhou that is scheduled for demolition, this other, less expensive Baishizhou does not hum and pop, does not buzz with entrepreneurialism and the rush of young office workers, but rather transports us back to Shenzhen 2.0; at the turn of the millennium, most Shenzhen neighborhoods were like this: straight-forwardly residential in the middle with an outer ring of functional shops and fast food, and hardware stores that spilled into the street because the sidewalk had not yet been laid down. Continue reading
The latest Vanke endeavor is called 万村 or “10,000 Villages,” which is a pun on the first character for Vanke (万科). Basically, Vanke has been busy demolishing and upgrading villages around China. According to Vanke founder and former CEO, “10,000 Villages” is a work of the heart. And yet. Now that 10,000 Villages has come to Shenzhen, there has been an outcry against upgrading urban villages because the effect is to eliminate the cheapest accommodations, forcing those who live there to leave the village and find housing elsewhere. Of course, there aren’t many housing options for someone who can only afford the cheapest housing in a unrennovated urban village.
One of the more interesting developments in this ongoing outrage has been the “Open Letter to Foxconn Staff,” which petitions by Foxconn for raises because employees can no longer afford to live in the upgraded villages. In fact, even monthly raise of 100-300 yuan can have serious consequences for workers’ wellbeing. For many, the increase in rent is a significant portion of the money they have been saving or sending home. In a nutshell, despite Wang Shi’s confidence
game that the 10,000 Villages project is making China a warmer, better housed place, in Shenzhen the facts suggest otherwise.
Yesterday, I visited the former Tanglang Industrial Park, which has been rebranded as 集悦城 (SoFunLand), a residential area for young workers. The first floor of the factories have been rented out for commerce and the second to fourth (or sixth) floors have been retrofitted as dormitories. This, we are told, is the future of post-Baishizhou downtown; young migrants can live in the dorms until they secure housing elsewhere. Continue reading
Friday afternoon, March 23, 2018, we walked Mehrauli. During our pre-walk briefing, Rohit Negi explained that Delhi’s urban villages were historic settlements engulfed by the expanding city; urban villages have allowed for migrants to take up residence in Delhi without receiving full municipal services. As in Shenzhen, the so-called urban village in Delhi is an artifact of legal loopholes—a space of exception that allows for flexible responses to the social problems endemic to global enclaves. Low-income housing is the most obvious fix, but Delhi urban villages also resolve such problems as food distribution, mom & pop entrepreneurialism, and medical care. As in Nantou and Shajing, Dongmen and Shenzhen’s middling enclaves on its outer district metro lines, in the urban villages of Delhi farmers have urbanized their settlements without explicit authorization by the state. In the contemporary Franken-city, the urban village exists at the whim of the government which can (in both Dehli and Shenzhen) use illegality as the excuse for expropriating land, evicting tenants, and masterplanning the city. Continue reading
I visit urban villages because they allow space for eccentricity, for unexpected juxtapositions that suggest the contours of history. And yes, these spaces are not simple agrarian settlements, but sites where wealth has accumulated for several hundred years, where ideas about what that history might mean have taken alternative forms. Continue reading