A splash of icy water to my first impressions as the true Shenzhen stood up and shone its glare ridden face. Shenzhen Day 3.
Friday 26th April 2013
I feel like I have been removed from a familiar ‘real’ environment, rudely plonked on another planet sometime in the future, forced to take part in a Utopian experiment.
I was ignorant and naive to assume that Louhu district was symbolic of Shenzhen, it is merely the starting point of this explosive 30 year growth that has charged west, carving pulsing veins of asphalt and erecting glass shrines, monuments to the mission underlying Shenzhen’s existence, the generation of cold, hard, cash!
An eerie sensation took hold of me as I both drove and walked, through, under and around the Futian and Nanshian districts. It was as though I was waltzing through Le Corbusiers dreams, embodied in his ‘Radiant City’ proposal. Twelve lane highways acted as arteries of circulation, at regular intervals spiralling exits led to smaller veins of tar. In the patchwork like pockets of earth that remained between the grid of roads stood slender columns that housed both life and business, at times difficult to differentiate between functions due to the monotonous repetition of facades and the formula that one size fits all approach in relation to a buildings form and scale. There was however an absence of piloti and undistrupted green space on the ground plane that quickly began to suppress my joy that I was witnessing Corb’s vision being played out in real life.
Futian district, the commercial and governing center of Shenzhen is void of social vibrancy and diversity. Although not a place to reside, as a working environment it lacks sufficient amenities that are essential for one’s physical and mental well being. Footpaths as wide as oceans, (maybe to cater for future road expansion) replace green space, there is no colour, there is a sense of oppression and of measured thinking and actions.
It is disconcerting thinking of those who work all day in one of the innumerable concrete, steel and glass towers that make up the commercial forest of Futian. A days cycle would involve finishing work and descending in a polished steel elevator from your office on he 40th floor, walking momentarily along grey expansive footpaths, descending further into the bowels of the subway, having your organs rearranged as you are squished into a subway car, regaining consciousness as you ascend out of the subway, once again a fleeting interaction with the outdoors as you claw you way over a tiled footpath, only to ascend in an elevator that takes you to your box of a home in the sky! Where is the lifestyle, where is the standard of living?!
The drug of financial prosperity appears to come at a sever cost….genuine social interactions are not possible nor valued, green space unnecessary as it doesn’t provide economic reward, architectural repetitive monotony because it costs less and is quicker to build.
The future city that I hoped of seeing, does exist! It is a complex place of bold urban design gestures, repetition, padlocked green space, socioeconomic disparity. A city void of cultural heritage and public facilities that are essential to both grounding and sustaining social cohesion and vibrancy. I cannot help but think that the pursuit of financial gain is creating an unstable society that doesn’t have the capacity to be resilient to future growth.