The rapid urbanization of Shenzhen since 1980 has generated a contemporary landscape dotted with a series of urban villages, enclaves of buzzing urbanity and street life situated on land owned by Shenzhen’s original rural residents. These areas house much of Shenzhen’s floating population of workers from across China.
The local farmers or fishers who are now the village landlords have usually completely re-arranged their village space, which is increasingly hemmed in by commercial or residential high-rise projects. Shenzhen’s urban villages are typically a fabric of tightly packed ten to fifteen storey walk-up apartment buildings, with ground floor commercial, arranged around a very permeable street grid, punctuated with the odd public space or market. There are usually some fairly spacious main streets, but most of the buildings are accessed through a warren of alleys and pathways, most less than two metres wide, that wind their way between the buildings. Amazingly, there’s still some commercial activity within the maze—such as informal bicycle repair shops or very small canteens.
While they have struggled with a poor reputation in Shenzhen, and in other Chinese cities in which the phenomenon occurs, urban villages are starting to be perceived as islands of vitality, street life, and holdouts of traditional culture in the sea of modernity that is Shenzhen. One village in Shenzhen’s Futian district, Shuiwei, is even being targeted for tourism, while many others are falling under the scope of the somewhat ominous-sounding Urban Village Renovation Project.
Tags: Exploring the City, Migration, Shenzhen, Streetlife, Urban Design, Urban Development, Villages