HOW TO ACCOMMODATE 15 MILLION

According to last National Population Census of China (2010), Shenzhen is 5th largest city in the country with urban population within administrative city limits – 10.4 million. This data includes only long-term residents and excludes suburban and rural populations. Shenzhen is home to millions of migrants and it is largest migrant city in China, so population statistics are controversial and even 15 million, indicated in other sources, could potentially be an underestimate.

Dominant Mode of Transportation


1- transportation - cars

The city has highest per capita GDP in China and with better opportunities to earn dissent living Shenzheners are falling in love with cards very fast. A lot of attention has been given to transportation issues by government, planners and others involved. On the flip side, Shenzhen is becoming a city of freeways, new districts are completely car oriented and even in main business centers one may have to cross eight-lanes to get to other side of the street. To solve this challenge, pedestrian bridges and under passages are built all over the city. It is not a new solution, but as I have seen in many cities of developing world, some roads are taken over by pedestrians instead of going up and down the stairs. I do, however, applaud Chinese ingenuity to put mini ramp on the middle of the pedestrian crossing stairs. Bicyclists and even motorcyclists seem to take advantage of those to cross freeways.

One of the positive developments is retention or construction of green belts or zones that follow freeways and major roads on both sides. It not only softens road edges, mitigates noise, but most importantly takes care of some of the emissions that otherwise would end up in the city’s longs.  I have also seen exemplary green streets and eco-friendly parking practices, not everywhere, but there are great examples in Shenzhen.

Short video can be found at: http://youtu.be/SowTom9BGqg

Active Transportation

2- active transportation

There are great examples of the active transportation system elements in the city: metro (subway), extended bus system, bicycles for rent and bike lanes. Current Metro system has five lanes and connects well the east-central part of Shenzhen. Subway stations in general are very easy to spot. Most of them of similar design, which makes it easy to identify and know in advance what you are looking for. After getting metro map and TransCard I found it very easy to use the underground system and in fact it became my dominant mode of transportation. I took bus ride only once with my coworkers, mainly because it does not have convenient English translation for its stations and you do need some knowledge of Chinese to use the bus system. Although I was glad to see buses running everywhere I went in the city, in some areas even double deckers were in use. Taxi is another mode of transportation one can take advantage of. I used it mainly to get to meetings with clients and during night hours (or early morning) when Metro is not in service.

China used to be known for its bicycle use, but this is changing fast. Despite an extensive network of bike lanes, some of the best quality with green buffers and so on, I have not seen more bicycles used then I have observed in Portland for example. Bicycle renting stations and parking racks do appear in different developments, mostly in urban renewal areas such as Shekou. The active transportation system has great beginnings, but it is still too disconnected.  There are also beautiful sidewalks and boulevards for pedestrians, but in some instances I was asking myself: “what is the point when you have to walk for miles to get anywhere?”

Gated Communities

3- housing-gated

OCT development near the Window to the World represents a good range of different housing types on the market: from low density, mid-rise, and all the way to high-rise accommodations. Low density are a rare site, this particular one is extremely expensive. Most of the older housing is 7 to 8 stories high in some cases with shopping on the ground facing the street, but most in form of gated residential communities. There is a long tradition of gated housing in China and gated enclaves can even be seen inside urban villages. For older large residential developments the gates are mostly symbolic and it is not hard to get through them. New developments on the other hand are more secure.  Often schools, shopping centers and other amenities can be found in or in between gated communities. Green spaces and play grounds are reserved for residents only. Most of the new residential developments are built as high-rises, 30 and more stories up. They often have improved community amenities (pools, green spaces, etc.). One thing that they luck however is the street life. Each and every one I visited barely had anyone on a street (and most of my visits were during weekends). They did remind me of typical bedroom communities that people go to sleep and rest of their life happens somewhere else in the city.

Short video can be found at: http://youtu.be/2WRCkell1qQ

Urban Villages

4- urban villages

Shenzhen is one of fastest-growing cities in the world today. As city expands it devours agricultural lands, but it also absorbs surrounding villages. Some villages do stay as is for a while, but without the land to work on there is no means to continue its rural life style. There is also an opportunity for its residents as their land prices rise to develop and become the landlords. Those we see the birth of what it sometimes referred to as “urban village.”  Almost, if not all structures in the urban villages are unplanned, giving the rise to chaotic environment. The residents (majority migrant workers) are living in the city without central supplies of water, electricity or gas. People in Shenzhen regard houses in urban villages us ‘shaking-hand buildings’ or ‘kissing buildings’, because one can shake hands with, or kiss, neighbors in the next block through windows.

I had hard time visiting urban villages. My heart and mind was filled with the controversy. On one hand you realize that human beings should not be living in such conditions, on the other …. Such extreme density developments scattered all over the city, provide the opportunity for migrant workers not only to have a roof over their heads, but also access to jobs in many cases within walking distance. Urban villages often have its own low cost farmers markets, shops, restaurants, and so on. They are also absolutely filled with street life.

Short video can be found at: http://youtu.be/Zu43GtJ5kBg

Set of slides for both transportation and housing can be found at http://www.flickr.com//photos/irinanicolet/sets/72157632328902307/show/

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One thought on “HOW TO ACCOMMODATE 15 MILLION

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