At the Heart of the City

To briefly introduce the city of Shenzhen, here are some statistics. The area of the sub-provincial city is 2,050 km2 (790 sq mi) and the urban area is 412 km2 (159 sq mi). In 2010, the sub-provincial city’s population was 10.4 million with a density of 5,100/km2 (13,000/sq mi) and the urban population was 3.6 million with a density of 8,600/km2 (22,000/sq mi). Just for a quick comparison, the City of Portland has a population density of 1,655 km2 (4,288/sq mi).  In 2010, the total GDP was $146 billion US$ which comes out to be $14,615 US$ per capita and 10.7% growth.

More information about city of Shenzhen can be found at: and on the city’s official website in English:

Shenzhen is comprised of ten districts. At the city core are districts of:  1) Futian, 2) Luohu, 3) Nanshan, and 6) Yantian. At the periphery, the suburban districts are: 4) Bao’an and 5) Longgang. Newly added districts are: 7) Guangming, 8) Pingshan, 4) Longhua (east half of Yantian District), and 5) Dapeng (indicated as 2nd five on the lower right).

My exploration of Shenzhen had started on the 2nd day of my arrival. Four of us, three French interns and me, were given free time and encouraged to visit the different areas of the city. Our very first destination was the Civic Center.

Civic Center

I found the complex rather intimidating. It had no sense of representing government per say, only something big and powerful. Perhaps that was the point. Most people are not aware of the fact that the government’s primary role is to serve the people and not the other way around. I was wondering how one would design a main public square for city of 15 million inhabitants. Was it ever full of people and what would be the occasion? The scale was no different from the Forbidden City courts or Tian’an Men Square in Beijing, yet those two have one distinct difference – they were almost packed with visitors. Here the square was empty, but in the shadow, below expansiveness of the roof structure, teenagers found a perfect spot for practicing martial arts, doing yoga or fixing their bicycles. Here’s link to short video:

We blamed the absence of people on the heat, intimidating nature of the place and the fact that we were there in the middle of working week. Little did we know, while walking over the expansive plaza which was behind the government building, that we are actually walking on the roof of large shopping mall. We were told in advance to take a look at the Central Book City. As soon as we went down two floors, we found both a large book store as well as people. Hiding from the heat of the day, they were perfectly comfortable indoors, taking over the floor and enjoying the reading.

Cultural Center

I had explored the Cultural and Convention Centers several weeks later, with one of my American counterparts. The three centers however are so interconnected, that it makes sense to talk about all three at once.

The Cultural Center has two main parts: Shenzhen Concert Hall and Shenzhen Library. On the other side of shopping mall one can also see the Children’s Palace, but I had no chance to explore it and will skip it all together. Both the library and concert hall are interconnected and share a common entry point. It is a strange connection. At street level they are divided by road constantly taken over by pedestrians who are supposed to use the roof top connection at the second floor. Two fountains on both sides of the entry attract people like a magnet, although the shaded plaza in front of the complex is not utilized. Entering into the library, we were submerged into a space filled with young people reading, studying, and researching on their computers.  The library’s book selection seemed to be limited, yet there were no empty spots at desks, no empty chair anywhere, and readers comfortably took over day lighted stair cases.

Convention Center

The foot print of the convention center is even bigger than the one taken by municipal building. Both are rather low structures, but spanning several blocks. City blocks here in China are of enormous proportions. Approaching the building one has to cross eight-lane-road only to find themselves in front of three enormous flights of stairs. I found it very common in China to indicate a significant entry by utilizing stairs. Some entries have escalators included into the overall design. However, I have yet to find one working exterior escalator, Convention and Civic Centers were no exception. Most people lined up at the ramps.

Inside, we found a hall filled with strangely dressed young people. I don’t play computer games, so it took me a while to realize what type of exhibition they came to visit. My guess was Japanese cartoon and video games characters are very popular here. For tourist, however, the main attraction is observation deck up on the 4th floor and the restaurant with a city view on the 6th floor. One can walk to the observation floor that provides views from the south deck to the civic center and the north deck provides views to the urban village. Side entrances to the building were no less impressive and I started to question if everything in China designed for giants?

Parks linking the development

I remembered the aerial view I have seen and the fact that entire development, from civic center to convention center tied together with the sequence of multiple parks.  Instead of following the line of skyscrapers on either side of the park line, my coworker and I decided to find our way in and experience the park.  Finding our way to the roof top of the shopping mall was not as easy and we did figure it was not a commonly taken path. And yes, we barely saw any people in the park, besides people who were actually working on landscaping; yet, it was a great place to be. All of a sudden we were completely taken out of the urban environment and could not even see the towers we knew were still guarding both sides of the park.

I was pleasantly surprised when on my second day in Shenzhen.  I had seen examples of sustainable storm water management strategies implemented at the very heart of the city. Right in front of Civic Center, large retention ponds were situated in the midst of new park. Across the street from entrances to the building, one could see dry swales. Buildings adjacent to the park, near the Convention Center, had great examples of green roofs used over public restrooms and secluded shelters. Eventually the park sloped up and gradually became a roof of large shopping mall. On both sides of mall, I could see linear retaining pond features. I have read that the development used solar powered lighting fixtures throughout and saw the light pole design implemented strategies prevented light pollution.

Slideshow with additional images can be found at:


One thought on “At the Heart of the City

  1. This is really helpful. Great pictures too!


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