Flight from Beijing to Shenzhen takes only four hours. Unfortunately most of the way it was cloudy and I was able to see only the area near Beijing, some countryside between the two cities, and an area on approach to Shenzhen.
Flying over China, one cannot help to notice that different parts of country have different approach to planning.
Industrial facilities can be easily seen from the air. The roofs have distinct light blue-color, perhaps -roofing material. Even from the air, China truly looks like a workshop of the world. Flying over Beijing, one can also see suburban developments. There seems to be no strict separation between high-density (high-rises towers) and low-density housing (single family). The use of high-density and low density appears to be used interchangeably from one city block to the other.
Frequent mix of residential and light-industrial uses may seem strange at first although, one has to remember that there are only 18 cars per 1,000 people in China verses 800 cars per 1,000 people in the U.S.A. It is hard to know from flying above how well small-towns and villages are served by public transportation.
I was surprised to see large patches of green left within the urban fabric of large cities. A closer look, however, revealed that those are mostly golf courses.
As terrain changes from flatlands to ragged mountain terrain – the settlement typology changes as well. Towns and villages are set along linear elements. In some cases they take over valleys, yet in others they cover the ridges. This seems to be less common in other parts of the world.
Here under the wing of our plane, the view opens up to a vast urban landscape with seemingly no end in sight. According to last National Population Census of China (2010), Shenzhen is 5th largest city in China with urban population within administrative city limits – 10.4 million. This data includes only long-term residents and excludes suburban and rural populations as well as migrant workers.
High-density (high-rise) housing is first to stand out. One can even orient themselves from the air by looking at rectangular building blocks oriented the north- south. The outlying land appears to be characterized by visible traces of deforestation, erosion and/ or mining activates. Wide roads and a number of elevated highways cut through the urban fabric, across the water and into hill sides.
Arriving at the airport, the first thing one sees is the construction of a new international airport of enormous proportion. Shenzhen already has good size airport yet it seems like it is not able to handle all the passengers and cargo the city receives on a day-to-day basis.
The airport is very well connected to the city with bus hubs and Metro lines right there at the entrance. If you decide to use a taxi, a word of caution, having an address in English is quite useless; no driver in Shenzhen can follow it. If you end up arriving with an address or directions in English make sure to have a phone number that driver can call and verify the location.
I received a warm welcome at the Urban Planning and Design Institute of Shenzhen (UPDIS) than had a chance to settle down in the comfortable hotel room just across the street from the office (view from my room in the upper right). The above 3D map gave me the opportunity to see what was within 15 to 20 minutes walking distance from where I was going to live. The same day I arrived, several more intern came as well, three young men from France, and young woman from Hong Kong along with a few others from different parts of China. The urban design department that I was assigned to all went to dinner together as a group. Food was superb and for the first time, I wished I had a chance to study Chinese prior my arrival because I could not follow the conversation.