Category Archives: 2012

Urban Redevelopment, the Shenzhen way.

First off, I’d like to apologize. This blog post is going to touch on urban economics and housing affordability; not the sexiest of topics for a blog.  If Portland, USA and Shenzhen, China have one thing in common (and it isn’t much), it would be that they are both becoming increasingly unaffordable.  With that being said, the magnitude of unaffordability between the two cities is incomparable.  Last year Shenzhen surpassed Shanghai and Beijing in becoming the most expensive housing market in China.  Shenzhen is essentially running out of vacant land to build upon.  Amid this severe shortage of residential land supply in Shenzhen, leading to astronomical home prices, the city is getting aggressive in launching urban infill redevelopment projects.  These projects will become an intense area of competition among companies eager to make a profit from China’s most expensive property market.  According to the 13th Five-Year Plan (five-year plans are a series of social and economic development initiatives and policies shaped by the Communist Party of China, mapping strategies and setting growth targets), the city is aiming to redevelop an urban land area of 30 square kilometers (7,400 acres) and renovate more than 100 old industrial districts and 100 urban villages.  The plan looks to resolve the housing shortage in the city by building roughly 260,000 new residential apartments near railway stations and in the city center.

Building one’s way out of unaffordability (adding supply to meet demand) is by no means a new concept, but what strikes me is the renovations to the urban villages, which essentially means tearing a good portion of them down.  Fellow intern Brandon was placed, ironically, in UPDIS’ Urban Renewal department and got to tour one of the urban villages that will be partially torn down soon and UPDIS is working on the design for the redevelopment.  From what we have been hearing, urban villages provide the last type of affordable housing in the city.  And this is by no means “low-income” housing; these villages house a diverse mix of students, young families, and blue and white-collar professionals.  It will be interesting to see in the long run how much of this new housing being built will be made affordable to citizens who don’t work in tech or some of Shenzhen’s other high-powered industries.



Brakes of Beijing

Beijing has many bikes. These bikes all have brakes.


Ofo Bike

This bike by the Ofo bicycle rental company has belt brakes on the front and rear wheels:


Ofo Front Belt Brake


Ofo Rear Belt Brake

Belt brakes are very China.


mobike bike

This very fancy single-tine fork and single-chainstay/no-seatstay bike by the mobike bicycle rental company looks like it has disk brakes front and rear. Let’s take a closer look.


mobike rear

It’s a disk brake in the back. What about the front?


mobike front

It’s a fake disk on a drum brake! Those jokers!

Look at this old-fashioned brake. It’s a single level across both ends of the handlebars attached to a rod that pulls together the brake pads to squeeze the rim. Cables must have been hard to come by back in this bike’s day.


rod brake lever


rod brake pads

rod 1

rod brake, forgive the artifact of the panorama composition

A bicycle rental company may even use more than one model of bicycle. Here, we see another mobike bicycle.


mobike with a belt brake and fun tires

It has a belt brake in the rear, but also of note are its non-pneumatic tires. The tires flex with many tiny holes that allow the solid rubber to give in when the road is rough. It is like riding a Nike Air.

In conclusion, Beijing is a land of contrasting bicycle brakes.

Gangxia Urban Village


Urban villages sparked my interest way before I arrived in Shenzhen. They seem to attract the attention of people of different spectrum due to their interesting character and uniqueness. Numerous journal articles, research and analysis have been written about them (but unfortunately, here at UPDIS I haven’t met anyone who has done research in this area.) Since I arrived here I have visited a few urban villages. One of those located close to where I stay in Shenzhen is called Gangxia. I went back to visit this site a couple of times and took some pictures so I can document my experience.


(If you don’t know what urban villages are please read Pam Phan’s blog entry here where she nicely describes how they got evolved.) Shenzhen is said to have more than 200 urban villages. Many of them, including Gangxia, are located on areas with prime real estate value. They provide cheap housing for farmers and other migrants. They are crowded and messy. While some would call them slums but they are different to them. They have narrow alleys, lack of light, sanitation and health issues. But many urban villages have commercial streets that are vibrant, especially in the evenings, and offer (informal) economic activities such as cheap food and low cost personal services (hairdresser, massage).


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