By JP McNeil – Shenzhen fascinates me. The transformation from a collection of farming and fishing villages into a megacity over the past 30 years – in my lifetime – is still hard for me to wrap my head around. I understand it conceptually, but as I walk around the city, I have a hard time imagining what it would have looked like, say, as I entered kindergarten. Historic photos help, but not a lot. With so much for a planner to focus on, I’m a bit surprised to find myself writing about bicycling and bike infrastructure in Shenzhen. Not that I don’t like bikes – I’m a fair-weather bike commuter and I love trekking around town in the summer months – but it’s not my specialty or passion. Nevertheless, a couple of things pointed me in the direction of this blog. The first was the detritus of my cubicle. The man who previously occupied my cube took a job in Shanghai, departing abruptly and leaving many of his belongings behind, including a fold-up commuter bike. I was told I could help myself to anything in the cube, so I did (the box of green tea was great, too).
The other push came out of a simple question from a Chinese colleague. Shortly after my arrival at CAUPD, I was asked to give a presentation about my past experiences as a planner in Oregon. My studio politely listened to me talk about land use policy in Oregon and small-town economic development, though they seemed only vaguely interested. At the end, one of them asked “What about bike planning? Why Portland?” I had not even mentioned bikes in my presentation, but my city’s reputation preceded me. This led to a request for a “lecture” on bike planning in Portland and also got me wondering about the experience of biking in the two cities and how they compare.