Tag Archives: shenzhen

Shenzhen: a city of cranes, construction, and ongoing conformations

Walking around Shenzhen construction and adaptations are on every street corner. It may not be shocking to most, as the city is the same age as Michael Phelps [just over 30 years old], so it is still establishing as a place to this day. However, the city has strict environmental provisions limiting its buildable land to only 7% of Shenzhen’s total land area (Zhou, 2014). City authorities have been greatly practicing the “out with the old and in with the new” across the city as it demolishes urban villages, tears down a 20 year old skyscrapers to replace it with a massive world-record-breaking buildings like Ping An Finance Centre at a towering 115 floors. Just down from Difu Hotel and UPDIS lies a superblock-sized, 50+ foot hole that I have been yelled at for attempting to photograph. It’s plans are unknown to me, but I imagine it will be a massive development towering over the 15-floor buildings adjacent.

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Ping An Finance Centre to open doors in late 2016.

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Mary Ann O’Donnell, anthropologist, curator, blogger, and urban village activist, stands in a demolished area in Langkou Urban Village.

It’s not to say all construction is of massive scale. Sometimes we see one or two people jack hammering away at the sidewalk tiles to replace them with mismatched cement. I always wonder how this coordination works for maintenance of things like this? Are people assigned an area and find random things to tear apart and return to the next day to repair? Is there a list of small projects to be repaired? How does this coordination fit within the larger picture?

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Cement truck forces pedestrians to the street in Futian District.

As it seems, construction vehicles are not regulated like other freight vehicles in the city. At any time of the day, a sidewalk could be blocked with a truck dumping tons of cement into the site, laying a brand new foundation. Additionally, many of these construction sites house workers which are usually migrants from rural communities within greater China. They live in temporary shipping container like housing that leaves a mark on the redevelopment when it is torn down. These migrants move from one job to the next just to make a living – they could be gone overnight.

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Sidewalk torn up to lay new lines underneath – not closed to pedestrians or cyclists though.

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On a Sunday, these workers do not see a day of rest.

Shenzhen Bay Super Headquarters is visible from our tandem bike ride along the water. From afar, you can see 20+ cranes in the skyline. Before redevelopment began, the area was home to only 30,000 residents. Whereas now, it is expected to employ and house nearly 10 million people and 500 enterprises. The plan calls for high-quality construction that can last up to a century, but many people in Shenzhen argue that developers take a cheaper approach to save time and money to be able to move on to the next project. As you can imagine, this will lead to a lower quality of building in need of redevelopment in one or two decades. How ‘sustainable’.

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Across Shenzhen Bay, you can see the many, many cranes across the new skyline of Shenzhen Bay Super Headquarters.

So my questions I still ponder are: When will construction be tapped out? At the quality of design being implemented, can we ever expect to see a significant decrease in construction? How does coordination of authorities, developers, maintenance, water and sewerage services compare to that of the United States [something we are most criticized, our coordination between departments and services]? And of course the affordability component – all of this construction and redevelopment is making Shenzhen well on its way to a very expensive place to live. How will people survive here? Will a young person like myself, making an entry-level professional salary of maybe 8,000CNY be able to afford 4,000-6000CNY a month for rent? Urban Villages are being demolished right and left – where do these people go? Especially if they do not have urban residency, are they forced back to rural China? Will Shenzhen continue to conform to modern gentrification and displacement hardships we are trying to recover and mitigate in the United States?

I am anxious for people’s input regarding the topic, so please comment with your suggestions, theories, opinions, questions, etc.

Olivia H

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Hardware Manufacturing in Shenzhen: An Expatriate Maker Space Spurs Innovation

By Eric Rutledge

After learning about my research on start-up businesses in urban villages, Hans Stam graciously invited me to visit him at Troublemaker, a shared maker space he co-founded in the Huaqiangbei Subdistrict of Shenzhen. 

Hans Stam says he discovered Shenzhen just like most other expatriates now living in the city – by accident. But for the Holland native who sold his first tech start-up to Microsoft for €500,000, his run in with China’s buzzing computer hardware capital seems less fortuitous than he leads on. As the Chinese Central Government pushes for innovation and entrepreneurship to lead the country into the future, Shenzhen is competing with other major cities like Beijing and Guangzhou to be recognized as China’s Silicon Valley. And by many measures the southern Chinese city of 20 million has a good start, including a vertically integrated computer hardware industry, a blossoming cloud computing industry, and leading universities like the Harbing Institute of Technology (Graduate School at Shenzhen) and Tsinghua University (Graduate School at Shenzhen). The city is also home to tech giants like Huawei, the largest telecom manufacturer in the world and Tencent, the company behind WeChat instant messaging with over a billion active users.

In the Huaqiangbei Subdistrict of Shenzhen, Stam and three other co-founders are helping young expatriates turn their ideas into products in a shared work space called Troublemaker. Troublemaker rents desk space to start-ups, independent inventors, and anyone else trying their hand at creating something new. The rent includes access to an adjacent “micro-factory”, business consulting services, and an introduction to angel investors. “I saw a problem and I wanted to solve it,” Stam told me during an interview in the shared space. The problem Stam saw was the difficulty of prototyping and manufacturing products. Troublemaker solves this problem by allowing its customers to turn over a hardware prototype in a matter of hours or days, not weeks or months. By locating above the world famous Huiqiangbei Electronics Market, Troublemaker users have access to abundant, high quality, and inexpensive hardware parts. The innovators simply purchase their pieces downstairs, then come back up to the seventh floor and use the micro-factory, better known as a maker space, to create their prototype. Stam explains, “If you want to build a prototype in Europe, your first prototype is going to take 3 months. Here, it’s one week.”

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Stam (front left), talking to a colleague in the “micro-factory”

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Prototypes on trays

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Huaqiangbei Electronics Market below Troublemaker

But for new innovators and entrepreneurs, navigating the start-up process and taking their  gadget from prototype to mass production can be difficult. This is especially true for expatriates, where building a relationship with factories and understanding the business culture are common barriers that lead to failure. For start-ups that need business support, Troublemaker is ready to help. Robert Mavatne, CEO of Troublemaker told me, “We know plenty of angel investors.” And although Troublemaker doesn’t take equity in new start-ups itself, if a young entrepreneur is interested in obtaining seed capital in Shenzhen, Mevatne can make the introduction. After an introduction, a start-up firm is likely to receive funding. According to recent Financial Times survey of Shenzhen-based start-ups, 92% of respondents said they had received some sort of venture capital funding and only 16% said they had trouble accessing it.

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The front lobby of Hua Qiang Bei International Maker Center, where Troublemaker is headquartered

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A start-up down the hall from Troublemaker, at the Hua Qiang Bei International Maker Center
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A list of businesses that have office space at the Hua Qiang Bei International Makers Center

But back at Troublemaker headquarters, Stam seems less focused on seed money and more focused on bringing people and ideas together. “The maker space is not a space, it’s a community… Troublemaker is about the network,” Stam explained. That network includes mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, printed circuit board specialists, and more. By bringing together the right people in the right environment, Stam believes innovation will happen, “It shouldn’t be all about entrepreneurship, it should be about fun and solving problems”.

Despite catering to expatriates, Troublemaker and other maker spaces around Shenzhen play an important role in developing the innovation and entrepreneurship that the Chinese government is aggressively pursuing. Maker spaces allow students and other emerging innovators to gain practical skills. According to Stam, manufacturing a tangible product is very different than dreaming up a design on a computer screen. Troublemaker’s micro-factory offers an affordable, accessible place for aspiring hardware designers to develop their skills. The company is planning to bring on interns from Chinese universities and Stam and other experts already teach free innovation lessons at local grade schools. “Shenzhen Middle School No. 2 is my favorite… kids speak good english there, so its easy,” Stam said

Looking to the future, both the Chinese Central Government and the expatriate micro-factory have growth on their mind. As local governments across China continue to pour money into innovation and entrepreneurship, Troublemaker has already opened up shop in Norway and is planning new maker spaces in Berlin and Seattle. Stam is planning to fly clients from the German capital to Shenzhen, introducing them to the ease of turning out new prototypes in Huaqiangbei. With regular flights from Germany to China, perhaps the next Hans Stam is just one flight away from discovering Shenzhen like most other expatriates – by accident.

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A young inventor assembles an electronic piece at Troublemaker

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Stam (right) and a visitor to the micro-factory

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Troublemaker customers talk over a beer

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A seating area in the Hua Qian Bei International Maker Center

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Desk space at Troublemaker

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WOOF! Canines in Shenzhen

Many of you will not be shocked by my first topic of choice for Transplanet. My beloved pooch, Hank, is in Portland while I am abroad and I’m sure he is just as happy as when I am home. This blog works to describe a dog’s life in Shenzhen. I will attempt to draw out different angles regarding the topic such as: Shenzhen’s street dogs, new fads of dog ownership and the weird market of the selling and buying of such dogs.

It’s no lie that Chinese culture feasts canine cuisine for over centuries, particularly during the Lunar New Year. Today, it is even still a respected cuisine that is still visible in Shenzhen’s night markets. However, alongside urbanization, an individual’s need for status has transformed canine culture from slaughtering for dinner to actually, their most loyal companions.

Many shop and business owners within Shenzhen city limits and within the many urban villages have what are visible to the average person as a street dog, but many are actually guard dogs. I should know as I approached one to say hello and it fiercely growled at me. Lesson one so far about dogs in Shenzhen: Do not pet a guard dog and avoid eye contact with them. They mean business. However, not all dogs that appear homeless are really without home. Many wander the streets with their owners just behind them, maybe 50 to 100 feet away, with no leash at all. It is obvious they know the path to wherever as they maneuver thru traffic without a scratch or scare. They are agile and resilient. At home, we consider giving chicken bones to dogs deadly and harmful. Here in Shenzhen, dogs feast on chicken legs consuming meat, bones and all in nearly one gulp. Other street dogs can be loving as they crave attention. I approached one for a photo using ‘kissy’ noises and her ears perked and gently approached me. I held out my hand and she licked my salty, sweaty skin. She loved my pets and head scratches and even followed Eric and I for a bit before she realized we were not going to feed her. Lesson two: be cautious with the street dogs, some are pleasant, others not so much.

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Collared and leashed dog in street protects its chicken leg.

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He nearly eats the entire bone in one bite!

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Saying hello to a friendly street dog.

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She enjoys my pets and head scratches.

Much like the United States, one must register their dog in China. However, most cities regulate a household to only having one dog, known as the One-Dog Policy. Somewhere in the midst in the shift of perspectives to own dogs there were complaints about barking and other such nuisances. The policy also outlines size and breed restrictions which millions of dogs in China do not comply. Authorities offer a discount to licensing if you spay or neuter your dog, similar to the Unites States. Many refer to this policy as a solution offered Public Security Bureau. As with many regulations, there are loopholes around having more than one dog. Residents may register only one dog per household, yes, but if say your uncle of another household does not have a dog, you can register your additional dog to that address.  I do not think Shenzhen enforces this policy but, I do not know for sure.

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Owner of what it looks to be two dogs, takes them for a walk through Baishizhou urban village.

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The two play and wrestle in the street off leash.

Speaking with a few Chinese natives, they will tell you dogs are trendy here. Right now, the big thing is to have these white fluffy dogs known as Bichon Frise. There is another dog here that is very popular and looks much like a Bichon, but it is brown and fluffy, however, I am unsure of its breed or mix. While visiting Dafen, an urban village targeted for artists, a seller of Bichons was standing outside a gallery hoping to make a sell.To the eye he did not seem  to have any takers on his six Bichons but there were many photographs being taken including from yours truly. Back in 2013, all the hype was about Tibetan Mastiffs, which sold anywhere from $10,000 to $200,000 USD. Although it is still said, that if you can afford to purchase, board, and feed a large animal you rank a high status in China’s society.

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Bichon Frise dog breeder awaits tourists and Dafen urban village goers to hopefully make a sell of this trendy breed.

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Owner of a large Mastiff shows off his status through the streets of Shui Wei.

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Two puppies await a home in Baishizhou urban village. They were very happy for attention and love from Eric and I.

Many of the streets at night are filled with dogs and owners, as it is very hot here during the day. People look to bring their dogs out to socialize with other canines and children. With dogs roaming off leash, people are not afraid or angry about this, they embrace it, greeting each friendly dog that approaches them. Often you can tell a young dog from an older one if it is on a leash or not. Somewhere in Shenzhen you can get your dog or puppy fix and much like in America be cautious when approaching a dog you do not know.

Enjoy!

Olivia H

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