EYESHENZHEN  /   Opinion

Laudable efforts in urban village reform

Writer: Wu Guangqiang  |  Editor: Zhang Chanwen  |  From: Shenzhen Daily  |  Updated: 2023-05-08

On Thursday, this year’s Youth Day, Shenzhen’s Mayor Qin Weizhong announced the city’s new batch of affordable housing projects together with a safe electricity campaign for urban villages.

Dubbed “kissing buildings,” urban villages used to evoke images of cramped unsanitary living quarters ripe with fire and security hazards.

With more than 17.4 million people living in its urban areas, about 2 million less than in Beijing and nearly as many as in Shanghai, Shenzhen occupies a land area that is only about 1/3 that of Shanghai and 12% that of Beijing.

According to the Shenzhen Housing and Construction Bureau, there are 336 administrative urban villages in the city, whose 350,000 buildings offer a floor space of 120 million square meters, some 49% of the total available housing in Shenzhen. About 12 million people live in urban villages, accounting for 70% of the population living in rented apartments.

While demolishing and rebuilding urban villages is the most lucrative method for developers and original property owners, who benefit from huge sums of compensation, those unable to afford high rents will be pushed away from the convenient downtown areas.

To make better use of the limited land resources and offer affordable housing to the citizens, Shenzhen has recently published guidelines to push forward the renovation of urban villages.

Yuanfen Village in Longhua District is cited as a successful example. With buildings painted bright orange, azure and yellow, the urban village in Dalang Subdistrict has been transformed into a welcoming neighborhood equipped with tidy streets, study rooms, gyms and playgrounds for children.

A government-initiated company in charge of the renovation drive has signed agreements with Bao’an, Longhua, and Guangming districts to fund similar projects.

The apartments will fetch higher rents with improved facilities, and the majority of the tenants can afford a rise of a few hundred yuan per month.

Buildings are not just shelters for our bodies; they are also containers of our treasured memories.

Each time an urban village bids farewell to the city, many who had lived there would share photos and stories on social media.

The methods used by some renovated buildings in Europe, such as the Nikolai Quarter in Berlin, provide us with good food for thought.

Adding modernist touches while respecting the original layout of the block has turned that neighborhood into a strong attraction for Berlin citizens and tourists alike.

A new rooftop skating park in Tianjin also offers us inspiration. When conditions allow it, the rooftops of the urban village buildings can be turned into gardens, cafes, tennis courts or billiard parlors to add zest to life.

As the last thing we want is cookie-cutter buildings with little public spaces in renovated urban villages, this win-win campaign that the government has initiated certainly tries the intelligence of the city’s administrators and designers. A huge sum of funding is also needed to guarantee its success.

Berlin is a dynamic city, attracting young people from around the world. Part of its charm lies in its affordable rents for housing. Hopefully, with the success of more urban village renovation projects, Shenzhen will be able to provide decent and affordable housing for the many young who readily call this city their home.

(The author is an English tutor.)