URBAN GORILLA

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USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Pregnant Woman or Road Obstruction?

The injection of anabolic steroids artificially creates an internal bodily environment that dangerously over-exhausts resources to the point where the physical body starts to deteriorate. In the confines of the human body where resources are finite in both quantity and capacity to perform, the major organs such as the kidney take on fatal damage. When the Chinese government injected its designated cities with its own performance-enhancing drugs, vast stretches of vertical architecture popped up like bulging muscles on a human body at inhuman speeds, interconnected by veins that made up a complex network of urban transportation.  But unlike the human body, China seems to be flourishing, economically speaking, without deteriorating. It thrives not only at larger scales of big businesses but at the microscopic level of the man who runs an obscure one-hundred-square-foot snack shop in an obscure alley several blocks away from a major street (something that would never work in less dense, horizontal cities like Los Angeles). The sheer density and quantity of its resources argues that China was actually in dire need of this artificial injection of economic juice.

In cities like Shenzhen, however, significant damage occurs at the social level where the individual seemingly tolerates collective co-existence but in his fundamental actions and mindset displays what at first seems to be a lack of “respect” for other individuals. But is it really a lack of respect or am I just seeing it that way as a westerner accustomed to my pedestrian right of way. I witnessed a pregnant women trying to cross a small street at a green light, having to stop and retreat backwards several times because the oncoming cars would obnoxiously honk their horns and refuse to stop. In order to maintain such a high level of economic efficiency and intensity, a few seconds of pedestrian priority become a luxury that that collective cannot afford. The density of both the people and the built environment does not necessarily equate to an increased awareness and respect for the quality of other’s lives but rather, as Simmel argues, leads to a desensitization of the people brushing and driving past you.

What surprises me most about the pregnant woman is her reaction to the cars honking and driving past her. She is perfectly tolerant. In fact, she doesn’t even “react at all… An incapacity emerges to react to sensations with the appropriate energy.” Simmel notes that the “metropolitan child” develops a “blasé attitude” by which they are not merely tolerant of these situations, but they just simply have no reaction of any kind. It is an accepted way of life. Just as Americans don’t respond to the presence of clean, drinkable tap water at restaurants. The pregnant woman doesn’t raise her hand in fury and confidently demand her right of way as would happen in the States. But rather, she tries to weave through the incoming cars and dangerously make her way through them, while holding up her belly. In the States, such a sight would be so ridiculous that it would be comedic to watch. At the same time, when pedestrians try to cross at a red light, the oncoming drivers are not honking in anger, demanding their right of way, and rolling down their windows to curse and flip off the pedestrians. Rather, they honk and weave through traffic with the same face of reaction-less tolerance.

Is the significance of human life diminished to a dispensable commodity that requires this kind of fast-paced, machine-like social mindset in order to survive? It seems from the actions and expressions of the people that it is not so much that the importance and quality of human life is diminished but more that the importance of economic efficiency is amplified to the point that certain social sacrifices must be made. At the end of the day, the pregnant woman makes her way across the street and carries out the rest of her day, probably running through dozens more cars on her way back home.

 

– DK


 

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Filed under: Density, Desensitize, everydayness, pedestrians, Transportation,

The Future of China

I am departing Shanghai once again.  This is my second time visiting this great city, but this time with 3 months of travelling in between analyzing Asian cities.  I will be leaving with a different knowledge of Shanghai than with my first departure–  my first exeperience in Shanghai gave me a familiarity, while this one allowed me to appreciate the “real” Shanghai beyond the cliche and realize the beauty of the everyday.

Making an impromptu decision to visit Hangzhou, I decided to take the high speed CRH Chinese High Speed Rail.  Just recently, CRH set the world record speed of high speed rail trains and I wanted to compare this experience to the Shinaksen in Japan.  Once I arrived at the platform looking at the aerodynamic nose of the CRH train, I was overcome with the same excitement that I had months ago in Japan riding the Shinkansen.  Though my emotions were the same, the reasons why I had this amazement was completely different.  I was in the People’s Republic of China, a country that has just come out of the Cultural Revolution only 30 years ago.  After a decade of isolation, China has the technology that matches and even exceeds that of Japan, which has developed with constant progress.

Perhaps in Japan, my amazement came from this first sight of the great and majestic Shinkansen.  Japan was the first country to effecitvely utilize high speed rail by alleviating the congested and overloaded roads and rail lines between Osaka and Tokyo.  Now, the Shinkansen connects cities like Osaka, Tokyo, Sendai, Yokohama, Hiroshima, and Fukuoka.  As the bullet train arrived in Tokyo station for a few short minutes, I saw its long, aerodynamically shaped nose that reminded me of a duck or platypus.  When the train reached this as its termius, I wanted to ride the train right away as the passengers got off.  However, I had to wait because the workers were preparing the train to head the other way.  I was easily amused by the automatic turning of the chairs as the train prepared itself for the new wave of passengers heading towards another destination.  I loved watching window washers meticulously cleaning to keep the prisitine apperance of the train.  When I was finally allowed in, I waited for the food cart lady to come by, not because of the snacks on it, but to see her bow before she exited each car.  Everyone had their belongings neatly stacked on the overhead storage area or in the back of the cabin.  A man would eventually walk by to check our tickets recording it in his book, and sometimes stamping it with a purple insignia that was handed back to me with two hands and a quick bow.

That was in Japan, and now I am in China.  I arrive in a large atrium space after purchasing my ticket to ride the bullet train to Hangzhou.  I blinked my eyes like I was in a dream because I was in disbelief that that China is capable of having this major transportation hub and have high speed rail connceting major cities right underneath after a period of global isolation.  However, I was upset because I couldn’t see the arrival and preparation ritual of the train for its next journey like in Japan.  I didn’t even know if there was one given the fact that China neglects the maintenence of things.  As I reached the platform, everyone quickly rushed to their cars, while I deliberately walked to the end of the train to see the nose of the bullet train.  Not quite as cool looking as Japan, but it can still hold its own in speed.  The workers looked at me funny because my peers and I were the only ones who were taking pictures in the chill, while everyone was already comfy and cozy in the train.  Once inside, there were many migrant workers who stuffed many of their belongings unorganized on top of the bars.  People were eating and constantly talking especially if they had companions sitting next to them.  There were also sliding doors that people never closed because it became and inconvenience for both the stewardness and the people walking to the bathroom.  I was anticipating a cart lady to come by, but instead I was sent the food zone that all passengers could visit.  There was no man to check my ticket because the turnstile had registered it.  The service aspect was completely removed and everyone was in their own self contained bubble within the confines of their seats.

I dare not to say that I did not have a journey to Hangzhou, but rather it made me reflect on my rides on the Shinkansen.  Within the contained vessel of the bullet train cabin, I was able to get two different experiences.  It was the Japanese perfection of the job at hand versus the loud talking, spitting [not on the floor thankfully], and space hogging people.

Even looking at the city morphology pass by when travelling from the city center to the outskirts back to the city center, I noticed the differences with Shanghai and Japan’s urban condition.  Because of the limited amount of land in Japan, most of the density is centered within the city and as you move toward the outsikts, there are few dispersed patches of civilization.  Shanghai’s sprawl was apparent from the cabin as I saw a continuous fabric of clustered developments that eventually transitioned into fields of farmland.

Riding in the high speed rail in two different countries made this trip come full circle in multiple scales.  Zoomed in, I can make observations of the collective.  By zooming out just a little bit, I can see the urban strategies of sprawl and densification.  Zooming out and looking at Japan and China, I can conclude that each country is at different levels of development.  While Japan is connecting the already extablished and propogating cities, China is using high speed rail to link cities that are still growing.  This fascination and excitement for both China and Japan have variations sets of factors giving each other the tension and an opportunity for me to spot these differences.

Joyce

Filed under: China, everyday, Hangzhou, high speed rail, Japan, News, Shinkansen, Tokyo, Transportation,

Mobility and The Automobile II

CHINA/ united states

China is currently undergoing rapid rates of development. As China becomes stronger as a nation, we are starting to see quantitative data that is truly jaw dropping. Throughout China, within the next twenty years, they are looking at creating 400 new airports to be built throughout the country, and the talk of airports only begins to touch the surface. With each of these airports, come complex connection systems including high-speed rails, local rails, subways, and intense highways connecting automobile and bus networks. All of these connections happening at a single node create the ability to connect these nodes creating a dense network of fluid transportation from city center to city center. This master plan is also being executed at an extraordinary speed, and if successful the ability for people to move from city to city will better promote larger distributions of people and commerce throughout China. With this robust network of public transportation, the role for automobiles in China starts to become almost insignificant. When you can get from Hong Kong to Shenzhen in approximately 14 minutes, why would you travel the hour it takes to get there by car?

The truth is though that the car is still a very important player in China, and this is mostly due to foreign influence and China’s new “capitalistic” business model. The car is still marketed as a luxury item. In china you see a higher distribution of luxury name brands on the road compared to other countries. These high-class automakers have launched their campaigns across China, and China has bought into their luxury model. In order to get a car in China, you not only have to buy the car, but you also have to buy the limited, distributed license plates. It is through this exclusivity that makes the car a luxury item within itself, through the basic principals of supply and demand. The role of the car in China is not necessarily driven based on transportation needs; rather it is based on image, wealth, and social standing.

These ideas of social standing through materialistic objects are demonstrated in the film “Beijing Bicycle”. The film focused on lower, middle, and upper classes of Beijing, and the tensions that exist amongst the three classes. The story’s true protagonist was actually a bicycle, which literally was passed back and forth through the different social classes. Guie’s character represented the lower class, where he was currently stuck. Guie was the first to obtain this shiny, new mountain bike that allowed him to experience and work for a middle class life. It was through this material object where he literally saw a better future for himself, in which other characters commented on how this Bike will truly raise him out of poverty. On the other hand, Jian represented the middle class in Beijing, and he also obtained the same bike for duration of the film. The bike was used as a way to blend in with his classmates. When the bike was out of Jian’s possession he immediately felt insignificant, and alienated himself from his peers. This contrast on the importance of a single bike to two completely different people and classes shows the power behind materialistic objects in China.

The end of “Beijing Bicycle” framed a street view, and the power of this image really summed up the complexity material objects have in China. The streetscape seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary for Beijing. The difference was the filter that the film set up to view this scene. After watching the impact one bicycle had on two completely different people, demonstrated the power of material objects in Chinese culture. The streetscape then took the idea of the bike and applied it to the automobile. The street was busy with car traffic up and down the center of the streets, and pushed off to the side was another lane of strictly bicycle traffic. This image addressed the idea on how severe social issues are in China, and how obtaining material items for transportation has become one of the key players in determining social standing.

The automobile plays significant roles not only in America, but also in China. In America the idea of necessity plays a crucial part on why we have so much dependence on the automobile. In Contrast, China could technically function without cars, but the idea of luxury plays a larger role in why cars have become so widely accepted. When the car gets put up on a pedestal, as the glorified form of transportation there is no doubt that it will create the desire to obtain one. With China pumping out more and more licenses every day, soon supply will meet demand, and we will start to see the car becoming more obtainable to the Chinese people, very much how the car became more obtainable to the American People. With China’s extreme infatuation with the intrinsic properties of materialistic objects, I question how far off they are from becoming another form of a congested America? With their new market driven economy the idea of ego will take larger precedent than with the ideas of a functioning society. Will the automobile become the new bicycle? If this does become the situation, then China will greater influence a two-tiered society, in which the car will act as one of the greater obstacles for the lower and middle class to overcome.

Ross Renjilian

Filed under: AAU, Architecture, Automobile, Beijing, Bicycle, Car, China, Circulation, Congestion, Public, Renjilian, Ross, Transportation, Uncategorized, Urbanism, , , ,

Clock Work

Up on the 27th floor of the hotel, I sit at night and stare out my window at the city below. I sit there intrigued and occupied by the dynamic landscape that is constantly in motion. The scene is filled with trains, cars, people, elevators, buildings, and flashing lights. The cityscape reminds me of a clock, so many moving pieces that are constantly in motion, every piece important and vital for the overall composition to work.

Everything is organized at a larger scale, and this organization is apparent with how smoothly everything seems to be operating. I first noticed the smoothness of Tokyo’s infrastructure at the subway station the following day. Typically subway stations display signs of aggression and franticness of people trying to get to where they need to go. We have created the term “rush hour” to describe the influx of people and pandemonium in our city’s infrastructure, and a typical sight would consist of people plowing down the stairs to catch the train before it leaves the station. Not in Tokyo, although the subway system bares thousands of people, these people are not displaying the typical signs mentioned above. Their tranquility is eerie and very unfamiliar.

I believe that this shows when good systems are in play, and work with one another efficiency is achieved. After all efficiency is typically the bench mark for performance, and infrastructure in Tokyo may not be perfect, but it is pretty close. It is not just the subway system though that creates this smooth dynamic movement, rather it is the layers of infrastructure and sectional quality of the ground plane that are frequently used through out the city. This sectional life style becomes routine for the people living in Japan. Elevated sky bridges bring pedestrian traffic off the street to allow for cars to maneuver on the ground plane. Many buildings contain underground connections that connect to subway terminals to allow for a complex network of transportation underneath the ground surface. Lobbies and elevators are dispersed throughout the buildings to create successful nodes for each of these various circulation paths.

It is through these layers of circulation that efficiency is achieved, and the urban environment overall becomes more user friendly. When people can get where they need to go, in a punctual manner, it makes one ponder why more cities are not delaminating their circulation paths. With all of these systems working together it creates this dynamic landscape that runs so smooth that one might compare the city’s effortlessness to run like clockwork.

Ross Renjilian

Filed under: AAU, Architecture, Infrastructure, JR, Public, Rail, Renjilian, Ross, Tokyo, Transportation, Uncategorized, Urbanism, , ,

ABOUT THE AAU PROGRAM

The views and opinions contained in this blog are solely those of the individual authors and do not represent the views and opinions of the University of Southern California or any of its officers or trustees.

CATEGORIES

PHOTOS FROM THE TRIP

AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Director:
Andrew Liang
Instructors:
Bu Bing
Steven Chen
Yo-Ichiro Hakomori
Andrew Liang
Yuyang Liu
Neville Mars
Academic Contributors:
Thomas Chow, SURV
Bert de Muynck, Movingcities.org
Manying Hu, SZGDADRI, ITDP, Guangzhou
Clare Jacobson, Design Writer, Editor, Curator
Laurence Liauw, SPADA, Hong Kong
Mary Ann O'Donnell, Shenzhen Noted, Fat Bird, Shenzhen
Paul Tang, Verse, Shanghai
Li Xiangning, Tongji University, Shanghai
Students:
Daniel Aguilar
Hong Au
Michael den Hartog
Caroline Duncan
Nefer Fernandez
Christian Gomez
Isabelle Hong
Jin Hong Kim
Ashley Louie
Javier Meier
Paula Narvaez
Ashlyn Okimoto
Tamar Partamian
Samuel Rampy
Luis Villanueva
Krista Won
Tiffany Wu