‘A standard of living…can it be measured in smiles?

Reflections on a surprising day 2 in Shenzhen.
Thursday 25th April 2013

A self guided walking exploration of Louhu, elucidated a disparity in social classes and a sense of happiness.

My preconceived notions of Shenzhen as a space age city composed of glass, steel and concrete, built by money for the generation of money couldn’t have been further from the reality.
In the Louhu district of Shenzhen the buildings are of diverse size, shape and colour. Each building hasn’t a single use but a multitude of functions. Every element of the built environment has a sense of tiredness, of age and of enduring. Although the majority of Shenzhen is less than 30 years old, an exploding population, its demands and impacts have obviously burdened the city with accelerated ageing. As a foreign on looker you are thus deceived into perceiving heritage and history.

There is a miss-match of residential archetypes…from 3-5, 10-15, 25+ story complex’s that gives the cityscape a layering or terraced effect. The older buildings are adorned with small windows and balconies, caged in by heavy duty steel barriers. The more modern towers merely replicate the one facade treatment from bottom to top where a rare few mountainous towers are sporadic and random in their adornment.

The roads in Louhu are rivers of constant movement, acting as powerful axis’ for the district. Although the car is clearly favored the footpaths are also extraordinarily wide…maybe to accommodate for future traffic condtions? In conjunction to oversized circulation for pedestrian traffic are exorbitant building setbacks that both defy logic when they occur for every building and kill the engagement of the building with the street.
Polarizing this urban design aspect are zestful zones of lower density hybrid buildings that function on the ground plane as shops of all descriptions and above as residences. The streets are narrow and branch off to small pathways where filtered light enters via a cluttered path between air conditioning units and clothes lines. The buildings have no setbacks and the lanes evoke the atmosphere of ancient European districts. There is a buzz in the air, a composition of frying food, babies crying, laughter and heated business exchanges. There are smiles on faces, the streets are spotless and a feeling of comfort and safety took hold of me. There is a strong sense of social cohesiveness here, enabled by a high density, low rise archetype. Connections are enabled and fostered. The buildings engage with the street and narrow lanes and they in turn engage with the buildings.
There is such life in this lower density hybrid district where anything you could ever need is within a few short steps away.

The lifestyle present here in the shadow of modern towers, although void of green spaces does portray a desirable lifestyle, if viewed from a sociology lens.

Adjacent to the ‘urban district’, and providing me with a juxtaposed experience was a shiny new multilevel mall complex called, The MixC. It was clinical in its smell and appearance. I could see my reflection in the polished tile floor. Void of people and of life, it was providing for the elite rich and privileged in Shenzhen. I was perplexed by its existence within a district where they average monthly wage would struggle to buy a single item of clothing that hung within one of the innumerable boutique clothing sores.
It highlighted to me a point that I hadn’t previously considered, that the disparity of socioeconomic classes with Shenzhen is immense. How will such divisions in wealth, power and privilege effect the future prosperity of the city?

I have much to learn, observe and study. Shenzhen is proving to be a city of complexity and incomprehensibility.Image

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