Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Displacement (Feb. 15)

With such a massive projects taking place on a such a grand scale, many people will be displaced. Probably the most famous case of this is the Three Gorges Dam. In the case, of Pudong, which was mainly farmland, it is much less of an issue than with those in urban areas, living in older housing, or even Shikumen (see below for more info on this housing type). I was fortunate to meet with an architect, Ben Wood, who was the designer of the Xintiandi project. This area is probably one of the trendiest areas in Shanghai, and renovated old Shikumen housing into commercial and retail spaces, full of high end bars, restaurants and stores. There were about 8000 people who were displaced, and according to him and David Westendorff, a consultant working on urban governance issues, people were not properly compensated and there were many holdouts. Partly as a result of that project, compensation amounts for people being displaced have increased greatly. Ben mentioned that contrary to most perceptions, people actually want their homes to be bought by developers so they can make a lot of money, and then move to a new apartment or relocation housing. Ding also mentioned that many people have already bought new apartments with the hope that they will be bought out.

At they same time, there seems to be a strong collective mentality, whereby people generally are in support of change, even when it may affect them negatively. If people see it as improving the way of life and helping the country, who are they to stand in the way? Overall, at least in Shanghai, the standard of living has been improving quite a bit for those living there. Of course, what are the impacts when people expect more living space, greater consumer products, and higher paying jobs to support this new lifestyle? I am certainly not making a judgement as to whether or not the Chinese should aspire to a western way of life, or that even of the United States. They are well on their way, as a couple of years ago, they became a larger consumer of their own goods than the US and other western countries did. And you can’t help but notice that. At least in Shanghai, the stores and malls are astounding. Not only are they everywhere, but they are massive and there are always completely jammed packed with people. It is no wonder that so many US companies are doing work in China.

The one group of people that are continually struggling find tenure and are most often affected by displacement are migrant workers. Many come to the city looking for jobs an finding work, but don’t have a permanent resident card. These are very much the backbone physically building the china of the future, but they rarely develop permanent locations in the city, living in rental housing or staying on the move. Westendorff estimates that the size of this floating population may be 150-200 million and will increase to 300 million by 2020. While the overall housing stock may be affordable to a large chunk of the population, (much more so than in many parts of the US), housing options for the lowest incomes are minimal. It does seem that the government is actively addressing these issues and understand well and clear the need to provide adequate housing for all. Amidst all the cranes and massive housing being built all over this country, who is it for? Housing for migrant workers is certainly not adequately addressed. While apparently there are informal settlements, they are not clearly as visible in Shanghai and the surrounding area, as they are in many other cities. It is quite possible that I just didn’t get around to see where these were.


Frances said...

All I could think of while reading this post is about the development going on in Atlanta. Obviously, the growth isn't anywhere near as massive as it is there, but they are developing so many condos and "mixed use" communities. It seems that this major metropolitan area is catering to a group of people who do not (yet) belong here, and have forgotten about those that have been here for the longest time.
It's almost as if they are so concerned with the future of the city and what it could be that they have leaving the people who are here now in the dust.
It makes me so mad, because it seems there is no forethought. For instance, they are widening the sidewalks on Peachtree to make them more pedestrian friendly (removing lanes to do it). Which is great. HOWEVER, not only is there nothing to walk to yet, they are wanting to put in a streetcar/light rail- which they said they would need to widen the lanes to do.
There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to where/how they build. Someone just sees dollar signs over a plot of land and they go for it. It's quite sad really cuz Atlanta has a lot of potential, and it seems with just about every decision that is made they take 1 step forward and about 20 back.
This city needs some help.. Come back Luke, Come back!!!

luke w perry said...

thanks for the comment frances. hotlanta. what a place. i know you see things from a unique perspective. i would argue that the planning and forethought is very intentional there, but the consequences will be borne the most by the most vulnerable. china almost seesms to be moving so fast, it can't hardly keep up with itself. i don't think that is the case in A-Town. It is amazing now how so many cities around the world are becoming so similiar and 'generic.' keep posting.