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USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Social Class Struggle

     Shifts within the global economy have generated the manner in which the land is used including the rearrangement of residential neighborhoods or in the case of Shenzhen, the urban villages. Urban villages are pre-existing villages where the city has infiltrated its surrounding by building around them. With aims to reform and improve rural living standards, urban villagers simply wanted to ease into the urban rather than have higher income and social influence. Whole villages are being torn down and replaced by redevelopment housing ranging from mid-rise to high-rise where in many cases migrant villagers cannot afford the new rent.

“Class struggle” where the government ignores the demands of the residents has established social hierarchies. Consequently urban development is affected by the class struggle. The speed of redevelopment reflects the desire of “wanting” to take over as a dominant role within the global economy. The market has invaded the way we live and what shapes our cities thus there is an immediate need to build. Speed acts as a conceptual driving tool for the market force. Yet the social construction of cities relies on a balanced ecosystem. There must be different socio-economic statuses in order to run a functioning system.

The city as a whole triggers the emotion attached to experiences. The city is constantly changing along with the social engagement. Culture shapes form similarly to the constant morphology of a city; both are ever changing. But one may ask how does one see through the layers over time to gain an authentic essence of the city? As cultural engagement changes including people and the architecture, the urban process becomes evident.

Initially an economic experiment with political intent, Shenzhen proved to redefine the definition of a city. Within thirty years, the population of Shenzhen went from 35,000 residents to 14,000,000, becoming an instant city essentially overnight. The land is fertile due to its close proximity to the Pearl River Delta, which made the area fall under a desirable condition of urban emergence. From rice fields the area was flattened out to provide land for factories and housing. The new metropolis came into existence with no intermediary paving landscape into large highways. The new expansion created transit features and access to capital. Globalization became an ultimate agglomeration. Improving the general standards of living, reforming collectivism and opening Chinese markets, Shenzhen became what it is today, a market driven urbanization that governs and sustains the economy. The question is, should this define or influence the future development of cities? As of now, a city that is inching its way closer to a utopian lifestyle is proving that this may be the route to take.

11/25/2013 Paula M Naarvaez

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Filed under: China, Shenzhen, , , , , , ,

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


 

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

The Shackles of Freedom

In the middle of Shenzhen’s central business district, one can find children riding their tricycles, neighbors enjoying a game of badminton and villagers of all ages socializing in a public plaza. Though busy boulevards and skyscrapers surround the Huang Gang village, this community can still exist as an urban village because the landowners are resisting financial pressure from the government. As a result, rows of generic high-towers become the backdrop for a working class community. Of the new developments just outside the village, four prominent towers now stand on land that was once a portion of Huang Gang village because several villagers took the liberty to sell their land to the government. There is not a trace of 7-story apartments to signify the neighborhood that used to reside there or the public sphere that allowed people to gather. Instead these new buildings are engulfed in the larger mechanism around it.

The built environment is a reflection of people’s personal agendas. Their freedom of individuality often times translates to the pursuit of wealth. So whether it is to maintain the urban village in order to receive constant rent payment or to sell land to the government, landowners have the freedom to determine the destiny of their land. In turn, they are also unconsciously constructing the social conditions that people dwell in.

Along the dried river front in Xiao Zhou village of Guangzhou, students set up their outdoor painting studios and senior villagers congregate to play cards. These everyday activities are remnants of the peaceful artist community, but traditional vernacular that once encouraged these cultural activities has gradually been reconstructed in succession by landowners who wish to profit from rent collection. Singular decisions to redevelop personal property have amounted to the destruction of old town fabric.

Aside from the pursuit of wealth, freedom of individuality can also mean the pursuit of uniqueness and irreplaceability in order for one to distinguish him/herself from one another.  Some artists who were initially attracted to the quiet atmosphere of Xiao Zhou village slowly took flight in search of inspiration elsewhere, while other artists made efforts to sustain original buildings. Tucked away in narrow alleys are shops and cafes that preserved architectural heritage and uniqueness within authenticity.

Wooden Door Cafe (Xiao Zhou Village, Guangzhou)

Similarly, villagers of Nan She village in Dongguan protected their cultural inheritance from the Song, Ming and Qing Dynasties. Senior citizens’ emotional and cultural attachment to architectural productions from the past led to preservation of five hundred year old residences and ancestral homes. Though villagers had the liberty to refurbish their homes, almost everyone chose to leave their homes in original conditions or simply moved away from the village, leaving ancient ruins behind. As a collective, their traditions have remained unique and irreplaceable for centuries, so much so that the government placed the village under strict preservation in 2005.

Nan She Village, Dongguan

Recently, Vice President Biden mentioned in an article in the New York Times that China’s people aspire towards fundamental rights. But these examples of social and architectural constructions within the villages of Huang Gang, Xiao Zhou and Nan She are evident of a kind of liberty that goes beyond fundamental rights. Individuals are able to exercise the freedom to pursue wealth and the freedom to be irreplaceable. It has been said that when Chinese people look forward, they are looking toward money. (Coincidently, the word forward and money have the same pronunciation in Mandarin.) As people in Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and Dongguan transform the destiny of their land, there is always more to be done to keep up with China’s rapid developments. This cycle of building and rebuilding puts pressure on individuals who utilize their freedom to strive for money. Perhaps those who move beyond the sole desire to amass wealth are closer to breaking free from the shackles of freedom.

angie

Filed under: Freedom, individuality, Shenzhen, Urban Village, ,

SHENZHEN: Chasing the Chinese Dream

As a fellow Hong Kong citizen, we view Shenzhen as the “Hong Kong want to be” and never realized that Shenzhen have already surpass Hong Kong economically. My prejudice slightly changed after arriving in Shenzhen after three years hoping that this will change my stereotypical thinking. But unfortunately Shenzhen SEZ (Special Economic Zone) was a disappointment after the four days excursion.

The moment we cross the border between Hong Kong and Shenzhen, I felt the emotional detachment towards the city. I agree that the rapid growth of Shenzhen is fascinating; I know that economically they are surpassing many other cities but I cannot seem to find their heritage and identity. Twenty years ago Shenzhen was covered with farmlands with mostly local farmers.  Twenty years later it is renamed the “Special Economic Zone” and became an immigration hub within the China province. The authentic Shenzhen locals will soon extinct and demolish by the materialism that drives this experimental city. Some might argue that Shenzhen’s heritage and history is their rapid growth, and they can be remembered as one of most successful Special Economic Zones. In comparison, Hong Kong began as a fisherman’s wharf and through Opium War and World War II it is shaped to be the way it is today. Hong Kong was once a British colony and was heavily influenced by the western world. After the 1997’s handover to China, it was renamed Hong Kong SAR (Special Administrative Region) under the Basic Law. The emotional attachment towards Hong Kong will never change because of its heritage and history as a city.

In Simmel’s article “The Metropolis and mental Life” he stated, “Money is concerned only with what is common to all: it ask for exchange value, it reduces all quality and individuality to the question: How much?” Shenzhen not only focuses on the speed of economic growth but transforming Chinese’s materialistic values. Social status became their priority and individualism ruled their minds. Louis Vitton and Gucci handbags became their way of expressing their wealth and class; purchasing Hong Kong real estate became their hobbies. Shenzhen have simply brainwashed most Chinese that money can buy happiness. Simmel later noted, “Cities are first of all, seats of the highest economic division of labor.” In contrast to the American dream during gold rush where Chinese people are seeking for better lives in California.  Shenzhen is the “Chinese dream” where many local Chinese immigrate to Shenzhen for better lives, and to seek opportunities to become wealthy. In their minds, Shenzhen is an experimental city that promises success and wealth and have already surpass Hong Kong to become the highest GDP in China.

Heritage cannot be reproduced, history cannot be rewritten. Shenzhen can only be remembered as Deng Xiao Ping’s experimental master piece, a city that transformed from farmlands to a special economic zone in two decades. Shenzhen will never be emotional attached because most history is wiped out by the growth and development. Shenzhen will only be remembered as the Chinese Dream that once the Chinese seek for wealth and better living.

AY

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , ,

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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.

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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