Shenzhen Overpass

Shenzhen footbridge

Hong Kong businesspeople and pro-Beijing politicians like to daydream about the day when Shenzhen and Hong Kong will be completely integrated, the border between them either gone or reduced to an anachronistic formality. For now, though, the two cities remain strikingly different despite their proximity and shared history. Shenzhen is brash, devious and seedy, but also vast and monumental, often aloof from its surroundings. Whereas Hong Kong has a well-entrenched local identity, Shenzhen is a seething melting pot of new migrants from throughout the country, making it in some ways the ur-city of modern China.

Few people live in Shenzhen because it’s a nice city; the vast majority of the people there are trying to work their way up the economic ladder. You can see this in the city’s urban form, which is an odd mix of prosperous New China developments and the kind of haphazard urban growth common in many developing cities. Before it was designated a Special Economic Zone in 1979, Shenzhen (known as Shum Chun in Cantonese) was a collection of fishing villages and market towns. Some of these towns were actually quite important on a regional scale; in the Qing dynasty, it was the area around present-day Shenzhen that was the administrative and economic heart of this part of Guangdong, not what came to be known as Hong Kong. The tight, meandering streets of these old villages have been preserved amidst the more rational landscape of the post-1980s city, which actually gives Shenzhen a more complex, dynamic urban form that you might expect.

One of these old villages is now known as Laojie, or Old Street, and it has become a teeming shopping district filled with department stores and shopping malls built by Hong Kong money. Large boulevards bracket the area, and like in most of Shenzhen, they’re traversed by a mix of crosswalks and pedestrian footbridges. Festooned with stickers and posters, covered in grime and cigarette butts, these bridges seemed to embody an essential part of Shenzhen’s character, which is the conflict between official order — big roads, master-planned estates, the authoritarian control of the state — and the entrepreneurial restlessness that gave birth to the city in the early 1980s.

Shenzhen overpass

Shenzhen overpass

Shenzhen footbridge

Shenzhen pedestrian overpass

Shenzhen footbridge

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Saturday June 13 2009at 09:06 am , filed under Asia Pacific, Public Space, Society and Culture and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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