In order to talk about the ways in which urban villages are both the form and content of the emergence of Shenzhen, the mind searches for a narrative arc in the earnest hyperbole of a Sci-Fi universe where the good is still mostly good and the bad drags its slimy tale through fetid waste streams. However recycled and repurposed, we’re still talking about the contradictions that made Fritz Lang’s Metropolis so compelling. Above ground, the Metropolis boasts spires and towers for scientifically enhanced bodies that play in an Olympian stadium and pleasure gardens. These beautiful bodies can only be achieved through exploitation and guided mutation; evil is attractive. Underground, human workers endlessly labor. Unappealing and gaunt, shriveled and inert, these low-end bodies are fashioned through usefulness to the machine and dreary tenement lives.
My recent turn to Sci-Fi is (as were Mary Shelley’s and Fritz Lang’s respective turns) informed not so much by a fear of mad science, but by distress over how technology is produced, distributed and used in neoliberal cities. Technology has been central to the form and content of social polarization in Shenzhen. Urban villages are not substandard living spaces. In fact, when compared to low-income neighborhoods in other Chinese cities and abroad, Shenzhen’s villages are almost middle middle class quality. But here’s the rub. Shenzhen’s urban villages are substandard with respect to the city’s gated communities, shopping malls, and office towers–and the gap is growing.
Impressions of the Xiasha Plaza since the opening of the k.k. one mall. Those who follow the cycle of urban village demolition, relocation, and upgrading know the k.k. folks as 京基, the same development company involved in renovating Caiwuwei.
So, as the Xiasha Kingkey project finishes up, another urban renovation project begins in neighboring Shangsha. Below, impressions of the Xiasha plaza, the Kingkey complex along Binhe Road, and the state of unmaking in Shangsha.
Just recently got my paws on “The History of Yumin Village (渔民村村史)”. Yumin Village, of course, was the village that Deng Xiaoping visited in 1984, during his first inspection trip to the SEZs. Xi Jinping followed up with a visit in 2012. So yes, this village has played an important symbolic role both in the ideological construction of post-Mao society and in representations of pre-reform
Shenzhen Bao’an County. What struck me as I flipped through the pages was how this transformation can be readily represented in the changing typology of “farmer housing (农民房)”. Continue reading
Those of you following the construction of Qianhai, may or may not be aware that it’s cultural geography includes many, many fish (now buried) and Dachan Island, once upon a time home to Dachan Village. Inquiring minds want to know: just where is Dachan Village, today? Continue reading
So this week is going by in a raze of urban village sections (片区). It seems that given the flat out difficulty of achieving 100% sign-off on property transfer and compensation packages, government planners and their developer agents are targeting sections of urban village for urban renewal (instead of entire villages). These sections (a) border major traffic arteries and (b) have relatively simple property relations. I also heard yesterday that in Gangxia, for example, the village was subdivided into six sections and once there was 100% sign-off in a section, it went. This would in part explain the protracted raze-scape that characterized Gangxia for several years. Continue reading
Talking about Shenzhen’s urban villages is difficult because legally they are not villages, but “communities (社区)” that have been integrated into the urban state apparatus. Moreover, depending on their location, these neighborhoods have different social functions — slums, gateway communities, and affordable housing for both the working poor and recent college graduates.
Mark Leung‘s photo essay, Welcome to Wuwucun, a Village in the City offers a detailed and sympathetic look at life in Wuwucun, a Shenzhen urban village and is well worth checking out. However, the images beg contextualization, illustrating the difficulty of interpreting images in the absence of historical knowledge. Is Wuwucun poor? Are these villagers? Is manufacturing a good thing? On the one hand, a shorter version of the same essay, for example, explained that these images showed how manufacturing in Shenzhen was providing small steps forward to improve the lives of China’s rural millions. On the other hand, these images depict one of the more peripheral villages in Shenzhen, where the level of poverty depicted justifies ongoing campaigns to raze working class neighborhoods in other parts of the city. In other words, these images can be used either to show that industrial manufacturing in Shenzhen has been good for the country or to justify the Municipality’s ongoing program of razing urban villages in the inner districts. Continue reading