Shenzhen, At First Glance – Rae-Leigh


I arrived to Shenzhen about two weeks ago. My friend from Portland was traveling through China and spent a few days in Shenzhen. I was lucky to have a smiling face pick me up from the airport! It was great because it was 11 pm and after 24 hours of travel time I was half asleep. If it wasn’t for that ride, I may have never made it to my hotel ;) Thanks Althea!

The first few days were chaotic and a bit overwhelming – in a good way. The location of where we’re staying, Difu Hotel, and where we’re working, The Urban Planning and Design Institute of Shenzhen (UPDIS) is in the Futian District of Shenzhen. There is a lot going on with shops, restaurants, and parks all within a short radius from us. There’s even a Walmart (surprise!) steps from our door.



Shenzhen is a very young city and has only begun to develop within the last 35 years. It was declared a Special Economic Zone in 1979. Prior to its industrial boom and rapid development, the city was non-existent. It went from an area with a few small fishing towns to a city of 12 million. The first metro station opened in 2004; now there are 131 stations. In 2014 there were three metro new lines being built simultaneously.

To put it into perspective I thought about the last two cities I lived in. Columbus, Indiana, a small city south of Indianapolis, has a population of 48,000 – Shenzhen is 250 times larger. Portland, Oregon, where I live now, has a population of 620,000 – Shenzhen is 20 times larger. That blows my mind!


UPDIS is a large planning firm, which does contract work for the federal government. It’s different then firms in the US, as it can best be described as quasi-governmental. I work within the transportation department. Our department is a year old and is made up of about 30 people. The department hired 9 recent graduates, from all over China, who arrived shortly before I did. We had a celebratory department dinner to welcome their arrival with delicious food and a chance to get to know each other.

I haven’t gotten too deep into Chinese planning yet, but from my little experience, it is very different than what I’m used to in the US. I’ve been a part of a few meetings dealing with the strategic planning of a new district, Xiang Jiang, in the Hunan Province. It currently has a population of 850,000 with plans to become the home of 1,600,000 by 2025. UPDIS is creating a new city center and they’re envisioning this area as a transportation hub. They’re looking at the transportation system at a regional scale with development plans for roads, transit lines, and an airport. They determined that the existing airport is not in the right location and is not suited to keep up with the future demand. They’re looking at a new airport location and how to best connect it within the city and the transit system.

During one of the meetings to discuss the new district, they asked me how I would start a city with a blank slate. Planning is unreal here. I cannot even imagine starting a city, a large city, from basically a blank slate like they’ve been doing. The population, density, and migration to urban areas are on a whole different scale than the US.


Shenzhen is fun! During my first weekend here, my colleague took me to sing karaoke and then to my first ping-pong match. Her and her friends love the game and met online as a fan group that travels to the competitions together. There is a yoga studio and a swimming pool nearby that I go to after work. In addition to Lea and I, there are several other foreign interns that we hang out with. We go to dinner, venture out in the city, and have even found some good dancing spots.


CADG Intern #2 Checking In and Chinese GIS Troubles – Hannah

Hello, all,

About a week and a half ago, I touched down in China after a little over two weeks in a rural part of Mongolia. If you know much about Mongolia, it’s essentially Montana x100. It’s large open views of the sky, green meadows, mountains, few roads, and very few people. The population of Mongolia is somewhere around 3 million people, and around half of those people live in Ulaanbaatar, effectively Mongolia’s only city. The country’s area is about 1.5 million square kilometers.

Enter China.

China’s population: 1.4 BILLION people across 9.6 MILLION square kilometers. But that doesn’t really matter at the end of the day if I’m only seeing one city, right?

Beijing’s population: at least 21.5 MILLION people in 16,800 square kilometers. Regardless of any mishaps in my calculations there (inclusion of people/area in suburbs or not), I think you can see that 21.5 million > 3 million.

Compare and contrast….

Most of Mongolia…IMG_20150717_085331324_HDR




I’ll indulge and also add that Portland, OR hosts about 600,000 people in 375 square kilometers. Also < 21.5 million any way you cut it.

I am glad for my opportunity to see different ends of the spectrum of Asia in a mere several week span. Both countries still have issues with major air pollution and clean water. Both also have some really great qualities. For China, data availability is not one of them.

I am working on a project with Jasmine in the CADG office centered around the assessment of a particular park in Beijing. With the information we collect, we can set a standard for park assessments in 10 different Chinese cities, which will help urban designers understand what qualities of design encourage park use for Chinese people. Initially, I wanted to make a quick GIS (geographic information system… mapping software that urban planners use) map for our site visits, so I started looking around the Internet for some map layers. I found some very limited options, downloaded, and opened them up in QGIS – simply city block shapes, roads, bodies of water, and some outdated parcel information. My colleague saw what I was doing and was flabbergasted that I was able to do so. I have a VPN, which is Internet software that helps me circumvent China’s “Great Firewall” that blocks information from many useful sites. My colleague told me that she never uses GIS because you only get to receive the files from the government if you apply for them for use with a very large planning or architecture project. Sure makes you appreciate the multitude of data sources at our fingertips in the U.S. As we’ve learned, data can be used in many ways to shed light on inequities, and that is one of the major reasons I value GIS. You have probably seen lots of maps, charts, graphs, etc. (your “infographics”) all over the Internet bringing attention to police brutality, crime, poverty, and what have you all over the U.S. Imagine if we did not have the capability to map that information. Knowledge is power, people!

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Overview from week three


This week Yang Huiyi and I took a day to preform site visits for our public space assessment study and research paper. Our boss encouraged us to see all potential public spaces in one day and to my surprise we were able to visit seven unique places, all over the city, in about 9 hours. Of course, a lot of that time was devoted to transit – bus and subway rides, and walking. It was quite an adventure surveying so many dissimilar parts of the city like that.

Each site had its own distinct features, each seemed to be balancing public and private space in its own way. Many of the sites that were suggested to us by friends and native Beijingers were sort of.. controversial and contestable as public spaces. We had people suggest specific places because of their popularity and heavy pedestrian flow, but then turn around and say they were disappointed to see that those places were losing their original character. The large outdoor mall near Tiananmen Square, and the posh SOHO development were both places that people seemed torn over. Both were fun to visit, yet neither were ideal public spaces according to my understanding.


I have settled down into the international student dorm at Beijing University of Architecture. It’s sort of fun, and strange, to be living in a dorm at my age – I never had this experience as an undergrad so it has taken some getting use to. They’re aren’t many other students on this floor (summer break is here), but the folks that are here are pretty friendly. Many of the guys are from Africa, and their English is really strong – this has been really really helpful. They’re all skilled football (soccer) players too, which has been fun. And speaking of football…

Jia You! Jia You!

The different departments at CADG have been showing their spirit by playing football matches against one another in the afternoons. It started this week, and the guys from our office really put on a good match! For planners, they are great athletes. We were all really proud of them. After the match on Tuesday we went out for dumplings – it was a great day for team building.


The weather in Beijing is bizarre this last week. It is hot and stagnant during the day, and storming during the evenings. I have woke to intense thunder and lighting at least three times this week. The lighting storms are really something to see. They shock me, and I am from the American Southwest – I have seen my fair share. Looking out my window I can see webs of electricity in the clouds. Very eerie.



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