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Monday, 3 December 2012

Edward Burtynsky: Urban Renewal, Shanghai


Urban Renewal #4,
Old City Overview, Shanghai: photo by Edward Burtynsky, 2004 (Edward Burtynsky Photographic Works)

Urban Renewal

Under Mao Zedong’s government, from 1949 for nearly three decades, population growth was encouraged as it was considered an asset to long-term development. The population of China in 1950 was 550 million. Today it stands at 1.3 billion. In 1952, urban dwellers numbered 72 million. By 2003 that number rose to almost 524 million people. Recent estimates indicate that because of economic development and the resulting annexation of outlying rural areas, China’s urban populace will, over the next 40 years, increase dramatically to over one billion city dwellers -- the equivalent of the combined population of today’s North and South American continents as well as the entire European Union.

During the 1960s and 1970s, China imposed very strict limits on migration as a way to maintain reasonable living standards in the cities. Today however, China is experiencing the largest country-to-city migration in history. Millions are leaving their farms for urban centers. Huge cities like Beijing and Shanghai attract peasants from the countryside who search for opportunities to participate in the new economy. Accommodation for these new city-folk will require a feat of urban planning and governance on a scale the world has never seen. It is estimated that from 80 to 120 million migrant laborers are working, or looking for work, in China’s booming cities. Most find jobs in the construction industry and the rapidly expanding service sector. Because they work outside China’s strict Hukou urban-work-permit system, these migrant workers are dubbed ‘The Floating Population’ and are, in some regards, illegally working in their own country. Beijing and Shanghai each have floating populations of between two and four million people. Once this was a generally ignored problem, but these cities are now attempting to assist many of the newcomers as they provide labor for a rapidly growing service industry.

In recent years Beijing has started building schools to educate the children of migrant workers. Until the 1980s, most Shanghainese lived in houses rarely higher than two storeys. Often more than one family lived in one house and a single family might have as many as four generations living together. In some cases density levels were as high as two-to-four square meters per person. Today, Shanghai is shaping itself into a modern international city. During the 1990 to 2002 period, as much as 38 million square meters of older houses and apartments were removed to make room for modern residential and commercial properties.

The government owns all land in China, but people have the right to use or occupy the land. Shanghai City’s plan to modernize has developers from around the world eager to jump into the game. Many of central Shanghai’s old houses sit on the most desirable parcels of land. Often citizens will be notified of their residential termination by the sudden appearance of the (now ubiquitous) Chinese character Chai (= demolish) painted on the outside of their building. Under Chinese law the government will provide substitute housing for residents of redevelopment areas, even if these substitutions are located hours away in the suburbs. To some, the idea of moving into a new apartment that has functional interior plumbing with hot water, something often lacking in older houses, is a welcome change.

But to many, the idea of dismantling their community, moving away from neighbors and not receiving satisfactory compensation for prime real estate is a battle worth fighting; enter the Dingzihu or ‘Hold outs'. Scattered all over Shanghai today one can see lone houses or parts of larger buildings surrounded by rubble where a neighborhood once stood. It’s here where maverick residents decide to make a last stand to preserve their lifestyle and dignity. Developers are now frequently accused of using heavy-handed tactics to edge the older residents out. This has become the fastest growing source of protest -- the forcible eviction of millions from their city homes and farms to make way for profitable new construction projects.

Edward Burtynsky: Urban Renewal, from China, in Edward Burtynsky Photographic Works

Urban Renewal #5, City Overview From Top of Military Hospital, Shanghai
: photo by Edward Burtynsky, 2004 (Edward Burtynsky Photographic Works)

Urban Renewal #11, Hold Out, Shanghai: photo by Edward Burtynsky, 2004 (Edward Burtynsky Photographic Works)

Urban Renewal #8, Hold Out, Shanghai: photo by Edward Burtynsky, 2004 (Edward Burtynsky Photographic Works)

Urban Renewal #9, Medium Density Suburb, Shanghai: photo by Edward Burtynsky, 2004 (Edward Burtynsky Photographic Works)

Shanghai City Panorama: photo by Edward Burtynsky, 2004 (Edward Burtynsky Photographic Works)


Susan Kay Anderson said...

the whole country
one construction site

we walk here
we become the place for walking
winding our way with bicycles

ancient, reflected buildings
crumbling in the rain

skyscrapers stand watch
factory smokestacks of the past
now my Crocs say Boulder Colorado
and Made In China it is
bitter joy to find you
it all feels too late

not nearly enough ways to watch
the moon rise see it in the water
this is where we watch

from the bridge the landmass larger
our horse-hair, our scrolls, our fireworks

Sandra said...

it is sad not to see a single tree in that place...the highway seems to monopolize some...

Hazen said...

“the whole country
 one construction site . . .” Susan says it all right there. Civilization seems one grand speculative enterprise, intent on turning the entire planet into piles of cash. China has developed any number of vast new urban centers where hundreds of thousands (mostly the well-off) could live and work. But the places stand empty and dead, and are now decaying. These still-born cities made some financial speculators a buncha money.

Nin Andrews said...

Like some kind of sci fi story. How many of them are about the olders being deleted in one way or another. What was that YA book--The Giver?

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

Burtynsky the tradition of poets who were also diplomats: Neruda, Seferis, St. John Perse etc.--thanks for approving his visa so we could travel along with him.



Burtynsky's pictures are, as always, stunning -- as the old cowboy once sang,

Oh me a home
Where the buffalo roam
And the skies are not cloudy all day


light coming into sky above black plane
of ridge, motionless leaves on branches
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

what to speak then think of,
as in view of what is

presented of the said, here
another picture, here

silver line of sun reflected in channel,
blue whiteness of clouds on the horizon

TC said...

The no-trees speculative enterprise of the new sci-fi global management project brings out the reductive thinking in this particular elder.

The trees might still be there if we'd never come down out of them.

Dunno whose great idea that unfortunate declension was. But somebody must have seen a fast buck floating about on the savannah there somewhere, and thought -- free lunch!