Shenzhen is a rapidly developing place – a fact that does not escape its residents. People here are acutely aware of Shenzhen’s constant state of flux and they readily acknowledge that, as a singular urban entity, they know very little about the city they call home. One of my co-workers recently described the average Shenzhener’s experience as home, work, and the few blocks surrounding each metro station. The areas in-between are only familiar to those who happen to live there and they might never even venture across the nearest arterial to an adjacent neighborhood. This sense of isolation in a vast urban agglomeration has prompted some in the creative community so explore what it means to live in Shenzhen.
Last weekend the Shenzhen interns (plus Alison’s friend Nick) went on an adventure to visit Coaster Raid; an art installation that deals with this topic. A revolving exhibit, Coaster Raid attempts to make sense of the rapidly changing patchwork of places and neighborhoods that make up Shenzhen. Every six months or so, a group of nine creative professionals: designers, architects, photographers, etc. gather at a local bar to kick off a new Coaster Raid. Okay, I know what you’re thinking: what’s up with that name? It’s called Coaster Raid because, after a few beverages, someone throws a coaster onto a map of Shenzhen as a way of randomly selecting a new area of interest. Pretty great, right? Below is a map with all of the Coaster Raids to date. We visited the exhibit for Bao’an, a seemingly unremarkable working-class neighborhood on Shenzhen’s west coast near the airport.
Over the course of several months, the group of Coaster Raid participants assembles their impressions of the area of interest through various media which are then presented to the public. These revolving exhibitions reveal a story seldom told about out-of-the-way places in Shenzhen. They explore socioeconomic divides, uncover interesting places, and get local residents involved and thinking about where their neighborhood fits into the bigger picture of Shenzhen.
The exhibit was located in an awesome artists’ community in Bao’an that was recently converted from an industrial park. Its alleyways and small creative spaces, home to design and architectural firms, would have been right at home in Portland’s Pearl district.
There were a lot of really great pieces that illustrated the juxtaposition between Bao’an’s recent history as a fishing community and the break-neck pace of development in recent years. I especially liked the leftmost photo collage below, which pieces together all of the different commercial building signage in the neighborhood. Look closely and you might see some familiar businesses being advertised.
The main theme that the Bao’an Coaster Raid explored was the gap between the old and new portions of the neighborhood. Divided both physically (by a river) and culturally (established residents vs. recent immigrants), Bao’an suffers from a lack of neighborhood cohesion. In order to engage residents, 5 target sites were chosen from both the old and new areas and 5 citizens from each area were asked to participate in a dialogue regarding their perceptions of the 10 target sites and Bao’an as a whole.
If you can’t tell, I really liked the Coaster Raid exhibit. I think it’s a great idea that challenges people to think about their community in a broader urban context. It takes lesser known places and puts them under a microscope to figure out what makes them tick. Best of all, it engages residents, encourages interdisciplinary collaboration, and allows participants to be creative. Would I like to see something like this happen in the Portland metro region? Of course! Am I willing to take the initiative to assemble a group of free-thinking visionaries to lead the first Portland Coaster Raid (name negotiable)? Vehemently, yes! Am I being serious? Probably! If anyone is interested in learning more, let me know…you can also visit the Coaster Raid website for more information.