the promised land

I often ponder to myself when roaming the streets of Xiaonanmen and similar Shikumens, what it would be like to look from the inside of these neighbourhoods out. Questions that float to the surface are things like; what physical views would you have of the City? What perspective and opinions would you have of the ‘other’ inhabitants of the City? What would a day in the life of one of its residents be like?

To change the subject for a brief moment – it will all make sense in a sec – I just recently watched the new action sci-fi blockbuster ‘Elysium,’ directed by the young Neill Blomkamp who is also the director of District-9. The movie is set in Los Angeles in year 2154 and posits a dystopia of Earth’s future which are seemingly exaggerated views of some of our planets current issues. It circles around two main themes; the Tea Party fear of a rising Latino minority population in the US  and social segregation, where two classes of people exist: the very wealthy, who live on a luxurious Stanford-torus-style space station called Elysium, and the poor who live on an overpopulated, devastated Earth. Minus the tech advancements of the space-station and crazy bionic upgrades for humans – all set in a desaturated post-apocalyptic environment – this narrative seems very familiar to things I’ve seen on the ground here in China today. It parallels with the growing concern that China currently faces; the rapidly expanding gap between the poor and the new middle-class and super rich. What struck me in the film were several scenes where the characters look up from their location on devastated Earth,  to the seemingly unreachable Elysium space station.  It instantly reminded me of the long views I get looking out of the Xiaonanmen district and across the Huangpu to the ever growing and gleaming towers of Lujiazui, more widely known as Pudong Financial District.  Similar to how the Elysium space station can be seen by the residents of Los Angeles – as a constant beacon of the promised land -the towers of the Shanghai World Financial Center (492m), The Jin Mao (421m), The Pearl Tower (468m) and the soon to be completed Shanghai tower (623m) towers can be viewed just about anywhere in the greater Shanghai area.  With all this bubbling around in my head I applied a figurative lens to the exposure I was seeking to capture. The goal was to distill, in one frame, the disparity between social-classes and the contrast between their physical environments.  Playing on this idea that the towers of Lujiazui could be viewed similarly to Elysium as a sort of “promised land” to those that inhabit and look out from within the dilapidated Shikumen neighbourhoods of Shanghai.

conceptual drawing of a scene from the film Elysium. Boy gazes at the space station.

conceptual drawing of a scene from the film Elysium. Boy gazes at the space station.

location 1_the promised land

location 1_the promised land

 

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rough fragments

2013.12.02_Xiao

Location 1_pile  on

Location 1_pile on

Location 1_pummeled

Location 1_pummeled

Location 2_times up

Location 2_times up

Location 2_compartmentalised

Location 2_compartmentalisedRubble

Location-2_dirty-laundry.j

Location-2_dirty-laundry.j

Location 1_on edge

Location 1_on edge

 

some extracts from an interesting discussion on my Facebook about this post:

  • Replier 1:  so who are the culprits?
  • Daniels Langeberg it’s not the cranes or dozers we see, but rather those we cannot, far behind the paper that control them.
  • Replier 2:  Is ‘culprit’ really the right word? If they’re building malls on top of all these places, sure… you could probably conclude that it’s ‘not worth it’ or whatever (although jobs and economic stimulation are important). But if they’re building more homes, with a more efficient use of space, then aren’t they helping more than they hurt?
  • Daniels Langeberg Good question Sam. Indeed you could look at it that way. Serving the greater needs of the population… But at what cost? At the loss of an entire historical era of housing and its way of life? It’s true that the biggest problem faced with cities of today is the growing issue of land scarcity and trying to cater for rapidly increasing populations due to global urbanisation. I agree that land consolidation and densification of our existing communities is the sustainable way forward. It allows for many services such as mass public transportation that rely on a critical mass to become more viable and in turn reduce the carbon footprint of the inhabitants that use it, among many other positive aspects . However, what I’m aiming to illuminate if your read my mission statement section of my blog; is the worst kind of gentrification. What is occurring in a very short amount of time; witnesses poor Chinese people getting kicked off their land or no longer being able to afford to live in their old neighborhoods due to increased land taxes/rates – then being resettled to the outskirts of the city, completely displaced and disconnected from their entire social network and former way of life. These social networks are incredibly important and extremely hard, if not impossible to manufacture through design or policy. These social networks are a phenomenon that build over great periods of time, many many generations in the case of some of these Shikumens. What I’m getting at is that most only see the buildings getting destroyed and little consideration is taken into what sort of cost and long term consequences are faced by the existing population. So to answer your question; yes I think culprits is about right. The people responsible for this change/gentrification who right now remain invisible, are wrongdoers. They are doing wrong by the people that live and want to continue living in these neighbourhoods but don’t have a voice to speak up about it.
  • Replier 3:  is this any different to anywhere else, in principle? Is there any alternative?
  • Daniels Langeberg Sadly this is not the only example, with the issue being of global proportions in most cities in the world. The process of gentrification is certainly not a new phenomenon, in actual fact it has occurred naturally in all cities since they came into existence and is not always a bad thing. It gets its negative connotation when this process is accelerated due to land speculation and large parcels of land being bought up, redeveloped and sold off for a much higher price. Not allowing the existing community to have time to absorb and adapt to that change and in most cases, such as what is occurring in Xiaonanmen, leading to an entire community to be broken up and relocated to several different locations. The key to an alternative is an approach that controls the rate/speed at which the change is occurring. This usually sees things like; planning policies that enforce price ceilings to control land rate increases, a mandatory minimum percentage of total housing stock needing to be affordable housing (in OZ its 15-20% in SH its 5%) and lastly phasing the development into a series of stages. These are just a few that I know off the top of my head. I suspect that phasing and development rate controls are non-existent in China. These interventions all aim to reduce the rate of redevelopment and as a result minimise the impact of gentrification by allowing a more gradual change to the physical environment, the community (inflow of new residents vs outflow of existing) and consequently the price of the areas housing stock.
  • Replier 3:  I suppose in China the politics is inextricably linked to the economy and growth. The magic 8%. Development cures some problems and creates new challenges. The idea of selling the notion of slower quality growth over high quantity growth is only beginn…See More
  • Daniels Langeberg All valid points Ben. These are indeed grim realizations. It may be ‘inevitable’ if we continue to allow it to be. I think in the short term problems will be solved on the surface by relieving some of the pressure brought by housing demands and things may seem okay for a while. But it will come at the cost of creating the ‘generic.’ The city that has no context, no uniqueness and makes you feel like you could be anywhere. The consequences will be felt in the longterm, when social and physical complexities have been diluted to the generic, passed a threshold that cannot and probably will not be reversed. This complexity is hard to measure, but I believe has the same economic weight as a more tangible index such as the GDP. Particularly when factoring in the social benefits, such as security, wellbeing, community belonging etc. So to conclude, perhaps the destruction of many of the Shikumens is inevitable but I’m hoping that my blog can at least raise some awareness to the intangible attributes that can only be found in these communities. So that one day these intangibles might be properly consider in planning policies and strategic urban plans. That way maybe the next wave of people will get the chance to experience the same diverse city as I do now.

uncommon themes

took a casual ride through Xiaonanmen yesterday on my way to pick up some tailored treats from the nearby fabric market. It wasn’t my intention to take any shots but it’s hard to resist when you see such marvelous happenings unfolding right in front of you. I had to think a little about the title of this post. As you can see there really isn’t a theme or commonality to these exposures. That’s when it hit me – maybe there is something in this unrelated business … which sparked further thought. One of the things I find interesting about the Chinese streetscape (the combination of elements on a road; benches, trees, pavement etc)  is that the common, is uncommon. At a glance, there are a myriad of different activities occurring simultaneously with no distinct patterns – certainly not to the rigid and over regulated environments that we get back home. So neat and rationalised, almost to the point of monotony. In China and especially in Shanghai where there is a strong influence of western culture, grouping these programs (how buildings and spaces are used – usually determined by its landuse) can be a little difficult. One thing is for sure though the rich mix of these seemingly uncommon tasks leads to a very diverse and vibrant  public realm, that is not isolated to the buildings, but even more interestingly, spills out and animates the  streets and engages with bystanders such as I.  I have only just scratch the surface of this itch!  Will be  digging deeper for sure, which I think will unveil more of why old districts like Xiaonanmen are just so damn cool to hang in!

locations_shoot 2 along the one the main EW road Wangjia Matou Rd

locations_shoot 2
along the one the main EW road Wangjia Matou Rd

location-2_spotless-finish

location-2_spotless-finish

location-1_buckets-of-the-stuff

location-1_buckets-of-the-stuff

location-1_clothes-lined

location-1_clothes-lined

location-1_extension

location-1_extension

location-1_stick-and-move

location-1_stick-and-move

location-2-_obscure

location-2-_obscure

location-2_pressed-for-cash

location-2_pressed-for-cash

location-2_wrecktangled

location-2_wrecktangled

location-3_things-to-come

location-3_things-to-come

shelters get sledged!

Yesterday I decided to go straight through the heart of Xiaonanmen on its main EW road Wangjia Matou rd.  Along this main artery you will find many small retail outlets and local conveniences with a constant sea of locals, delivery men and now construction/demo workers filling its spaces.  I stopped to observe a building right in the center of the district  get sledged hammered to pieces brick by brick. As it turns out I was not the only one that was interested.

locations_shoot 2 along the one the main EW road Wangjia Matou Rd

locations_shoot 2
along the one the main EW road Wangjia Matou Rd

location 1_matchstick man
location 1_matchstick man

location 3_thy daily bread

location 3_thy daily bread

location 3_slipping away

location 3_slipping away

location 3_just another day

location 3_just another day

location 3_james mean

location 3_james mean

location 3_hammerhead

location 3_hammerhead

location 3_brisk

location 3_brisk

location 3_untitled expression

location 3_untitled expression

location 2_the goss

location 2_the goss

location 2 _the bigger picture

location 2 _the bigger picture

location 2_swept off your street

location 2_swept off your street

location 2_standby me

location 2_standby me

location 2_little by little

location 2_little by little

location 2_lao ban

location 2_lao ban

location 1_old flame

location 1_old flame

location 2_crumb

location 2_crumb

location 2_baffled

location 2_baffled

location 1_matchstick men

location 1_matchstick men

 

 

the journey begins!

Delighted to finally have a landing page for all of the exposures that I have taken and will continue to take for this project. If you’re interested to learn more about the goal of my blog please visit the ‘mission statement’ and methodology’ tabs on the top of my page. Please feel free to post-up or email any questions you might have for me, I hope to provide as much information to you guys on my discoveries as possible.

introducing site 1:

the entire Xianonmen study area. Shot taken by me from the building marked in the 3D view below.

the entire Xiaonanmen study area. Shot taken by me from the building marked in the 3D view below.

some basic geographic info:

edited from: edushi.com

3D model of Xiaonanmen district and its surrounding context. shoot locations have been marked and correspond with the captions underneath my posted exposures.

not the best start... this is a security guards palm over my lens.

not the best start… this is a security guards palm over my lens.

location 1_ loan run

location 1_ loan run

location 13_familia

location 13_not so familia

location 12_urban compression

location 12_urban gradients

location 12_still life

location 12_still life

location 12_market night

location 12_market night

location 11_turning trash

location 11_turning trash

location 11_home coming

location 11_home coming

location 11_fear & and loading

location 11_fear &  loading

location 11_cornered

location 11_cornered

location 11_bath time

location 11_bath time

location 10_little rascals 2

location 10_little rascals 2

 10_where'd everybody go

10_where’d everybody go

location 10_ little rascals

location 10_ little rascals

location 9_defiant

location 9_defiant

ocation 9_concretgation

location 9_concretgation

location 9_wrong side of the..

location 9_wrong side of the..

location 8_white wash

location 8_white wash

location 8_calligraffiti

location 8_calligraffiti

location 8_singled out

location 8_singled out

location 8_playground

location 8_playground

location 8_flown the coop

location 8_flown the coop

location 8_tormento

location 8_tormento

location 7_eaten away

location 7_eaten away

location 7_hungout to dry

location 7_hungout to dry

location 6_dreamhouse

location 6_dreamhouse

location 6_dream stripped

location 6_dream stripped

location 6_was it a dream

location 6_was it a dream

location 6_overlooker

location 6_overlooker

location 4_window shopper

location 4_window shopper

location 4_underexposed

location 4_underexposed

location 4_stripped naked

location 4_stripped naked

location 4_shattered vision

location 4_shattered vision

location 4_scene differently

location 4_scene differently

location 4_cross

location 4_cross

location 4_hung

location 4_hung

location 4_line up

location 4_line up

location 4_broken in

location 4_broken in

location 4_broken down

location 4_broken down

location 4_boxed in

location 4_boxed in

locaiton 4_ glimmer of cope

locaiton 4_ glimmer of cope

location 3_relics

location 3_relics

location 3_loading please wait

location 3_loading please wait

location 3_inside out

location 3_inside out

location 3_ round the block

location 3_ round the block

odd perspective

odd perspective

location 1_walk the line

location 1_walk the line

location 1_the doors

location 1_the doors

location 1_brief accomodation

location 1_brief accomodation