Week 1 Highlights

Wow what a first week! I have officially been in China for a little over a week now and it is amazing to think about how much I have already done. I started working at the Urban Planning and Design Institute of Shenzhen (UPDIS), pitched a research proposal to my coworkers, formed bonds with several of my colleagues, hiked Lotus Mountain in Shenzhen, traveled to Guangzhou and much more!

Work
I went to two lectures this week—one on Detroit and the importance of budgeting for both the implementation and long-term maintenance of urban planning projects, given by George McCarthy, and one on community organizing and community planning, given by three Chinese, and one Taiwanese, professionals. The second lecture on community organizing really blew me away. The content of the lecture was not new to me (I took a public health course on community organizing this past Spring at PSU, taught by Noelle Wiggins), but the fact that Chinese planners are genuinely interested in empowering community members and getting them involved in the planning process was really exciting. The panelists discussed several examples. One of them (罗湖社区) involved the construction of a new subway line and the nearby residents being concerned about the level of noise pollution and amount of mud on the roads making it difficult to walk. The residents were able to voice their concerns and have their needs met. Link for more information: http://sz.southcn.com/s/2014-11/06/content_111627184.htm

Research
I just started doing research on the urban villages 城中村 in Shenzhen. Urban villages are extremely dense, mostly residential areas located throughout the city. The architecture is called 握手楼 or hand-shake architecture because the buildings are so close together that if you reach out the window you can shake hands with your neighbor. There are currently over 200 of them in Shenzhen, however, this type of development is not unique to Shenzhen. Yesterday I traveled to Guangzhou, another city in Guangdong Province, with another intern and colleague and had the opportunity to walk through an urban village. It was probably one of the most powerful and influential urban planning experiences I have ever had. After doing a week of research I thought I had a pretty good idea of what it would be like in an urban village—the reality is far worse than I could have imagined. There are places where it is pitch black, even in the middle of a sunny summer day. There are pipes that empty liquids onto the tiny alleyways with essentially no drainage system. Standing water, electrical wires and trash fill the alleyways’ streetscape. This combination makes the air extremely stale. I felt like I was suffocating as I walked through the area and had several minor panic attacks. Before visiting the urban village in Guangzhou I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to research in regards to affordable housing, climate change, urban planning and public health in Shenzhen’s urban villages. Now I am ready to move forward with a more narrow research topic. I will be focusing on the link between crowded living conditions, poor air quality (caused by excess water, increasing temperatures and bad ventilation) and the development of adverse respiratory conditions in Shenzhen’s urban villages.

Language
My Chinese is definitely a bit rusty but is coming back with a vengeance. Having not used my Mandarin in over two years and being in a different part of China where the accent is different, I am neither surprised nor worried about my minor language struggles over this past week. I am looking forward to improving my urban planning and public health vocabulary over the next nine weeks, as well as my yoga vocabulary when I start teaching as a guest yoga instructor at the company studio.

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