when efficiency matters more than the humanity of our cities…

European institutions were designed to direct flows of global capital. In doing so, they’ve become less accountable to people. But in this gap between people and their institutions, citizens are rising up to reclaim the commons.

Insights into Shenzhen urbanization by way of European debates over the commons in Closed in and Crowded out: urbanizing against the city.

conspicuous construction

It turns out there’s a word for the ongoing architecture of inequality: conspicuous construction.

mega-thinking at MoMA

Yesterday at MoMA I saw an exhibition curated by the Network Architecture Lab, Uneven Growth: Tactical Urbanisms For Expanding Mega-Cities. The exhibition struck me as very house of representatives with archi-biennale characteristics; the curators chose a representative city from each continent and then presented these cities through blow-up charts and video. Thus: NYC represented North America; Rio represent South America; Istanbul represented Europe; Lagos represented Africa; Hong Kong represented East Asia, and; Mumbai represented the Indian subcontinent. More interestingly, perhaps, the museum layout, especially in context of the third floor’s permanent architecture exhibitions, had me thinking about the looming, unrecognized figure of China and how we need to re-think not only urbanization, but also the critical frameworks in which we think about mega-cities. Continue reading

time zoned urbanization

The walk from Central Walk Mall to the Civic Center by way of Central Park suggests the contradictory temporalities of Shenzhen speed, which was set when Guomao went up — one story every three days. Shenzhen Speed is time zoned urbanization, where architecture appears as a function of place X project-time subdivided by GDP expectations and the inevitable algorithm of actual buildings + entropy gains momentum in the absence of mindful inhabitation. Impressions from yesterday’s walk:

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because not all villagers were created equal…

The stereotype of the second generation of Shenzhen villagers being “rich, lazy, mah johng playing, playboys (who might also do drugs)” is not only predicated on the idea that all of Shenzhen’s original inhabitants are rich, but also that their children have grown up aimless. However, Bao’an County’s original 300,000 residents and their children were not all created equal. What’s more, they increasingly find themselves belonging to antagonistic economic classes, while their children come of age grappling with problems that none of their parents imagined facing. Some second generation SZ farmers must look for wage labor in factories that (rumor has it) do not hire locals, preferring instead to hire migrant workers, even as other second generation SZ farmers are the first in their family to gone to college, and still others are, yes, struggling with too much wealth.

The inequality among locals has been created through reform era legislation and urban development projects, which have built upon and elaborated historical inequalities and traditional norms. In an earlier post, I charted the borders and corridors that have shaped economic possibility and subsequent patterns of urbanization in the SEZ, arguing that three borders have enabled urbanization in Shenzhen: the border with Hong Kong, the second line, and the city limits, which abut Dongguan in the northwest and Huizhou in the northeast. Two economic corridors have facilitated Shenzhen’s growth: the Guangshen highway corridor and the Kowloon-Canton Railway. The Guangshen highway corridor parallels the area’s riparian trade routes, which were the means of Han expansion from Guangzhou southwardly on the Pearl River and its tributaries. The KCR, of course, was the British attempt to preempt and redirect the PRD’s extensive trade network.

Not unexpectedly, proximity to a border or corridor has been a condition of reform era riches. Villages near the nexus of these borders and corridors have had disproportional opportunities to build and manage industrial parks and real estate developments. The earliest villages to get rich, for example, were all located along the Shenzhen-Hong Kong border at corridor checkpoints — Shekou (Fishing 1 and Wanxia) and Luohu (Hubei), first, but then Huanggang (Huanggang, Shuiwei, Xiasha, and Shangsha). However, guanwai villages retained land rights a full 12 years longer than did guannei villagers, with the result that largest and wealthiest village joint stock companies are now primarily located along the Pearl River Delta (Shajing and Huaide) and KCR corridors (Nanling near Buji). Consequently, many villages have remained “stuck” in between these two different modes of production, neither farming nor investing in manufacturing, let alone transitioning to the new creative economy. Areas of relative poverty include many Longgang District Villages as well as villages in Gongming and Guangming.

However, proximity to the borders and corridors has not in itself created the conditions for villages to transition from lives based on rural production to lives based on urban industrial manufacturing. In addition to the construction of infrastructure, differences in Mao-era administrative designation have also shaped current inequalities among villagers. First, successful villages have operated as collectives, rather than relying on individual efforts. These villages not only inherited Maoist organization, including management experience, but also inherited common ancestry. Thus, single surname (一姓) villages, which have renovated ancestral halls and promoted traditional rituals have generally been more organized than random surname (杂姓) villages, which were created during the Maoist era for production purposes. Second, successful villages have had traditional land rights, which were extensive. Indeed, most traditional villages have made their fortune through land deals. In contrast, fishing villages (渔村) and overseas Chinese villages (桥村) had foundation rights (宅地), but not land development rights. This meant individual villagers could build private homes, but that villages could not collectively invest in industrial parks or real estate developments. Moreover, villages did not benefit from compensation deals between developers and nearby traditional villages. Third, as recent events in Wanfeng demonstrate, some village heads have been less corrupt than others, while the success of Huaide, Nanling, Huanggang, and Xiasha Villages has been directly attributed to the foresight of the incumbent leader.

It is an open secret that legislation has been the source of Shenzhen’s competitive advantage, both for outside investors and for indigenous Bao’an villagers. What’s more, this legislation did provide the framework for many local villages and individual villagers to become rich. Indeed, when Deng Xiaoping died in February 1997, Shenzhen villagers openly wept and brought funeral wreathes to the statue at Lianhua Park and his Shennan Road billboard. Nevertheless, the emergence of class differences within and between villages directs our attention to the ways in which Shenzhen has displaced Bao’an as “the local”. Within this new locale, hometown status no longer provides a viable identity because locals have been segregated into urban classes that have disrupted traditional rural relations, even as they learn to navigate a hometown that is no longer theirs, assimilate the mores and customs of urbanites, and speak standard Mandarin, rather than local Cantonese or Hakka dialect. And in this new world ordering, poor Baoan locals embody a poignant form of global tragedy.

afternoon sunlight, central, hk

Walked the hills of Central today. Remembered that afternoon sunlight does all sorts of good. Thought that narrow streets and winding hills ameliorate the effects of looming skyscrapers. Enjoyed.

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china’s 2011 clinker production capacity

It’s true, in searching for statistics about how much cement has been used in Shenzhen (I keep hoping some social statistically minded engineer will do the calculations), I stumbled across China’s cement web. One of the articles, relevant to aforesaid search, was the clinker production capacity of China’s ten largest cement producers in 2011.

As of Jan 1, 2012, China’s big cement ten are, in order: Hailuo (海螺水泥)、Southern (南方水泥)、China United (中联水泥)、China Resources (华润水泥)、Sinoma (中材集团)、Hebei East (冀东水泥) 、TCC (台泥水泥)、Sunnsy (山水集团)、Huaxin (华新水泥)、and Hongshi (红狮集团). Together they have the capacity to produce just under 581 million tons of clinker, annually. Just how much can be built with all that cement? Well, the Empire State Building weighs in at 370,000 tons. This means that ten Chinese cement factories produce the mass equivalent of 1,570 Empire State Buildings.  Continue reading

two walks in guangzhou

Just spent three lovely days in Guangzhou, enjoying conversation at Sun Yat Sen University and visiting tourist spots, including a walk along the river and a ride on the bubble train atop the Guangzhou Tower. Very Tale of Two Cities simply because looking down is so different from looking through even though vertigo set in when I tried to walk out onto a glass bottom viewing deck. No, I didn’t leave the opaque floor and yes, strangely did not feel as afraid when I walk outside onto the viewing tower and into the bubble train. Images below:

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1995-2005: Keywords in Shenzhen real estate

Much of Shenzhen’s informal history is, unsurprisingly perhaps, being written on blogs and weibo. However, websites dedicated to real estate, ranging from analysis to agency offerings are not usually considered to be history writing. Nevertheless, these websites provide insite into the negotiation of value as people transform labor and desire into homes and family life. To give a sense of the historical content of these websites as well as how they produce knowledge about the city, I’ve translated a sampling from a real estate purchasing and rental keywords post by 王猴猴.

Just an editorial note: when reading these keywords it is important to hear what has not been said. Policy criticisms and social problems remain implicit in Wang Houhou’s explanations and evaluations. I have thus added a few exegetical notes, which do not exhaust possible interpretations, but rather point to other readings. I encourage readers to add their own interpretations and thereby enrich the keywords.

盘点1995~2005深圳地产十年关键词 Inventory of Shenzhen Real Estate Keywords, 1995-2005 (Wang Houhou)

1995 购房入户 (Buy a house, get Shenzhen hukou) In order to stimulate citizens to purchase homes and also to further economic development in a slow house market, Chinese local governments promulgated real estate development policies and measures. The prime example of these policies came in 1995, when the Shenzhen government approved a measure that allowed anyone who bought a house outside the second line [in Baoan or Longgang District] was eligible for three Shenzhen hukous. [In 1995 Baoan and Longgang were still under rural administration and the Second Line was still enforced. Consequently, this law stimulated building at Second Line checkpoints, notably Buji and Meilin, where people could buy a Shenzhen hukou and still get to work easily.]  Continue reading

how do talk across our experience?

On the ride home from RDU airport to Southern Pines, my brother pointed to the road leading to friend’s new house, “She lives out here in the country.”

I asked incredulously, “And you live in the city?”

“That’s right. Downtown.” And we all laughed.

Now I knew that town and country were relative concepts, but it is difficult here in Southern Pines to describe the scale and velocity of urbanization in Shenzhen.

What can I say in response to the question, “How urban is it where you live?”

I usually answer, “Very. There are few places in the US (outside NYC and LA) that are as expansively urban as Shenzhen, but even NYC and LA have significantly fewer people than Shenzhen.”

And there’s the rub. It’s difficult to imagine the intricacies of Chinese urbanization here in Southern Pines, where the wind rustles through long pine needles as the tree tips bend toward each other in early summer warmth. I keep asking myself, what would allow the diverse experiences of urbanization in Shenzhen and Southern Pines to become reciprocally meaningful? After all, over the past few years Southern Pines has experienced an estimated 20% growth rate. Life here, too, isn’t what it used to be. Nor is it the straightforward alternative to China that many people – both here and there – believe. But there are commonalities – shared desires for better education, government accountability, and public safety, to name the tip of grassroots unrest – that could grow into dialogue.

So point du jour: If we are to figure out a language of global sustainability, we need to develop empathy for each other’s reality in the absence of compatible experience.

Topics you’d like to see comparatively discussed? And why?