The Toronto Stars video about Shenzhen got me thinking about instant cities. What kind of place is Shenzhen? It was a fishing village when I was born. It is now a city of 12 million people. It took New York 130 years to reach the same population.
Shenzhen is growing so quickly that master plans have become “non-legal” and “for government use only” because every five years the city has to face the of reality how much every forecast is missed.
What are the implications for a city that grows at that kind of rate? Carlo Ratti, who directs the SENSEable City Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has some ideas:
The risk of losing all sense of identity… in Shenzhen it is not rare for buildings to be demolished before they are even finished just because perceived changes in market conditions impose an imperative to reconstruct it differently. The city is continuously changing its skin, the urban landscape mutating in a fluid way. The result is a loss of identity and authenticity…In two decades, the city has succeeded in erasing nearly all traces of pre-existent architecture.
Greg Lindsay, a contributing writer for Fast Company, is also critical, writing:
Unplanned and uncontrollable, Shenzhen and its neighboring cities represent 20th-century urbanism at is worst—ugly, inequitable, and unsustainable. Surely we can do better in the 21st?
Yet, despite the criticisms people continue to move into the city. Clearly it is offering opportunities and a quality of life not possible in other places in China.
I want to provide a counter narrative. Shenzhen is a place for people to learn and to connect, which over the last 30 years has lead to incredible rise in prosperity. It’s identity is intertwined with the political and the economic transformation of 21st century China, which has lifted 440 million people out of poverty, and with the global digital revolution. Shenzhen’s core business is building consumer electronics and telecommunications components. More than 30,000 firms engage in R&D for new technologies and products and almost a million people work as technical professionals.
Shenzhen is an instant city that has grown to feed the technological revolution, which is changing the world from San Francisco to Nairobi. It represents and satisfies our need for instant gratification and instant communication. I cannot think of a place that could be more representational of the 21st century and authentic to its trends, movements, and architecture than Shenzhen.
Finally, curious about how the City looks I searched for images. I put together a gallery of the ones I found most compelling. How do these images affect your thinking about the Instant City? Is Shenzhen the 21st century city?