Sub-curator: Juan DU
More than perhaps any other city, Shenzhen has come to represent China’s rapid modernization and urbanization, both in the international and domestic popular media as well as scholarly research on modern China. Whether touting Shenzhen as the first Chinese city to be based on modern planning and its successful economic development, or dismissing it as a capitalist sweat-shop devoid of any local character, all seem to insist that Shenzhen is a city that “came from nothing and just a sleepy village transformed into a city overnight”. Ironically in an age of globalization devoid of ideological and spiritual sentiments, Shenzhen however, is often cited as a modern miracle.
While Shenzhen was designed in the 1980s to accommodate for 1 to 1.5 million residents by 20 years’ time, its population stood at about 10 million in 2000s. With such discrepancies between the centrally planned economy and urban form with the actual conditions of the city, how did Shenzhen not only survive, but thrived with economic success? The answer lies in the hidden urban realities of densely developed informal sites dubbed Cheng Zhong Cun, or “Urban Village”.
The modern success of Shenzhen has always been attributed to favorable central policies and openness to external opportunities. However, as Shenzhen’s modernization history unfolds, the
remaining 320 villages did not only witness its rapid rise, through unexpected interplays with top-down planning and bottom-up responses, they became catalysts in the industrialization, modernization, and urbanization of the fastest growing mega-city in the world. Over the past decade of village redevelopment fervor, with the increasingly visible adverse impacts of wholesale redevelopments of urban villages and an increasing awareness of the villages’ multi-scalar values that they contribute to the unique qualities of Shenzhen- a city of diversity and opportunities, the villages are gradually becoming recognized as an essential part of the city’s eco-system. In fact, as many researches have shown, the villages can be regarded as resources, heritages, communities, networks, cultural practices and an outlet of imagination for the city’s collective future.
The Document Room seeks to open up local and international dialogues on the current discourses on urban villages in Shenzhen. The Village Archives record the history and pre-history of Shenzhen through tracing changes in the villages, changes of attitudes towards the villages, changes of research interests and creative imaginations on the villages. To capture the dynamicity of the villages’ current situations and receptions, advanced research and representation methods are used to survey media, gather public opinion and project multiple futures for the villages based on scenarios. Interactive components enable the visitors to contribute their knowledge and experience on Urban Villages to on-going research topics.
The Archive Wall of “Massive Change of 10 Villages” unfolds the formal and informal histories, textual and visual records, current research and creative efforts on Shenzhen’s urban villages through a parallel series of topics, introduced through the “Village” that this year’s UABB was hosted- the Nantou Walled City. Nantou’s socio-spatial changes act as a narrative and historical device for the Archive Wall to draw out topics and local histories of ten villages that are featured in UABB2017. Urban Village Library is a multifunctional deposit of existing published researches on urban villages, which has collected 105 items to date. The Library also provides a quiet place for visitors and researches to read through literature and publications.
Shi Jian/Hei Yiyang displays their years of researches on urban village topics through the 3-volume publications. Qulei/Xiao Yazhi revealed the transformations and social-economic values of urban villages through mappings. T.I.A. Studio intersected 10 key historical moments of urban village development with fictional stories to provoke our imaginations on the villages. Liu Xiaoliang represented the transformations and reproductions of urban villages through physical models and materials. The Document Room disseminates a spectrum of projects that operates in various medium with different research methods. GSAPP Studio X/ One Architecture utilized data-mining and machine learning techniques to harvest information from all kinds of urban village related literature sources. XKoolTech/ MusoZheFan established a digital platform in Nantou for data collection, analysis and sharing. Yang Zhiyi/Cheng Wenjie (Studio G) sampled 18 urban villages and presented the interactive system as a digital game. Huang Heshan/Jiang Fan exchanged stools with local urban village residents as an alternative form of social interaction. Xu Lan foregrounded resistance and action in his self-reflection on his engagement and thought with urban villages. Numerous cases of uneven development all around the world have provided us with many valuable lessons. Any production of space has to take into considerations a balanced regional development. Cities and rural villages are two closely related aspects of regional imbalanced development rather than two isolated issues. The content of the Document Room will be a living and ever-growing knowledge pool on the urbanization of a city through the lens of evolving villages that is layered, non-linear and opens up possibilities for the imagination of a city’s urban futures.
The phenomenon of Shenzhen’s Urban Villages and other constructions within the grey areas of management hold important lessons to be learned, in regards to both the inadequacies of formal urban planning, and the potentials of self-organization and informal development. Dispelling the perception of a ‘necessary evil’, Shenzhen could serve as a persuasive example of informal urbanization as assets to the planned city. As the trend of informal urbanism and mass migration is increasing drastically around the world, Shenzhen’s urban village phenomenon has the potential to influence the understanding of many urgent issues globally, such as the genealogy and future of migrant cities, potentials of self-built micro-infrastructure, and affordability and living conditions in emerging megalopolis.