Now the 2010 Shanghai 上海 World Exhibition is officially over and the theme of “Better City, Better Life” has been discussed from all possible angles, it is time to figure out how to implement all that has been said, pondered upon and promised. As can be seen from the picture above, the World’s Exhibit mascot – Haibao (meaning the treasure of the sea) – has not only been roaming the Expo site, but also has been acting as a treasurer for urban change and territorial renewal in Ningbo’s Yinzhou District 宁波市鄞州区.
As mentioned in an earlier post, the development of Yinzhou New Urban Zone is just a small part of a wider plan to alter 80 km2 of land South of the Fenghua river. During a walk from the center of the new development to the river front, one encounters a rapid succession of large plots of land that either being build up or disappearing. Most of the times, these two are intertwined and it is clear to see that the rubble is a display of an urban struggle between the rich and the rural, between the newcomers and those who are unavoidably will have to leave.
The reason for this tension can be read on a formal and informal level. To make this story comprehensible, one needs to finds formal clues by looking at the economy of the city of Ningbo 宁波市:
But when China began to open up to the free market in the 1980s, many businessmen and government and party leaders displayed their historic loyalty to their city. Taiwanese companies, foreign investors, and returning Ningbo natives (more than three hundred thousand people of Ningbo origin live overseas) have poured billions of U.S. dollars into Ningbo to take advantage of its good transport links as a base for manufacturing goods such as textiles and electronic products. The city has 50,500 private firms and 210,000 entrepreneurs, who account for two-thirds of the economy.
On the informal level, one can look at what makes this evolution and growth possible: a massive rural-urban migration that accompanies and feeds modern urbanization. This is a story about human flow, about urban villages which constitute enclaves of informality in an otherwise highly regulated society:
With a reputation for numerous employment opportunities, fair treatment and better payment for migrant workers, the booming economy has turned Ningbo into a magnet for migrants. In 2006 more than 2.4 million rural-urban migrants lived in Ningbo. [….] Although the urban economy is dependent on the cheap labour provided by the migrants, they have no access to the formal urban housing market. Rather, they have to stay in company dormitories on construction sites or crowd themselves into packed informal housing provided by local peasants in many urban villages.
It is due to this intertwining and reinforcement, in the span of a couple of decades, of formal and informal urban actors – a dependency both on foreign investors and on cheap labor – that cities start moving. We walked and walked, crisscrossing construction sites, highways, small rivers, abandoned shops, fragile villages.
Pictures by movingcities.org
- Overview of Present day Ningbo (pdf alert!)
- Informal Elements in Urban Growth Regulation in China – Urban Villages in Ningbo (pdf alert!) | Changqing, Q., Kreibich, V., Baumgart, S. (2007)