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.

Pace of Living in Shenzhen

One of the first things I noticed upon arrival in Shenzhen is the prevalent sense of urgency that permeates virtually every aspect of daily life in Shenzhen. This is perhaps most evident when noticing the numerous scooters, bikes, motorbikes, and other forms of two-wheeled transport weaving through crowds of people on the sidewalks. The streets are flush with ringing bells from passing wheelists (not a word, but there seems to be a wide variety of two-wheeled commuters here), as they demand pedestrians to make room for them. It has been difficult for me to tell if so many of these people are actually in a rush to get to their destination, or if this is simply the pace at which they live.

I’d imagine other parts of China cultivate a much more laid-back style of living (especially rural areas). The rushed (for lack of a better word) pace at which this city moves is likely a product of being a highly modernized metropolis, especially one that emphasized efficiency and innovation (Shenzhen being dubbed the “Silicon Valley of China”). Moreover, having visited other massive metropolises (e.g. Bangkok, Buenos Aires), I cannot say their fast pace of life compares to Shenzhen. This rapid rate of living is something that I am not accustomed to, especially when considering that I’ve lived most my life in the Northwest (MT and OR), which has more of a laid-back reputation. I am nonetheless fascinated by the constant rush of this metropolis, as it stimulates and encourages me to adjust to this seemingly unprecedented pace of daily life. It has been a unique and rewarding experience thus far!

Consult Ayo for footage of Sam and me frantically dodging “wheelists” and cars among Shenzhen’s bustling streets.