Shenzhen’s urbanization efforts continue to steamroll ahead. A redevelopment project in Baishizhou has forced 150,000 tenants to move out over a two-month period, according to a report by Jiemian, a Shanghai-based news outlet, on July 6.
These urban villages, or chengzhongcun, are often nicknamed ‘kissing buildings’ or ‘handshake houses ’ as they are a hive of activity in closely-woven streets. Although urban villages may be regarded as hazardous and cramped, they are cost-effective places to live for new graduates, young entrepreneurs, working-class migrants and even some white-collar workers.
Baishizhou, an area situated in Shenzhen’s Nanshan district, consists of five villages and is considered the biggest remaining chengzhongcun in the city. The revitalization project has been in talks for many years, with villagers conscious of the looming moving date.
Image via Andy Barraclough
Jiemian interviewed a Baishizhou tenant surnamed Li, who recently received a verbal eviction notice after returning home from a business trip. “You have to find a house quickly. This building will be completely cleared and sealed off before August 31. After September 10, the water will be cut off, power will be cut off, and the building will be closed.” Li’s landlord told him.
Image via Andy Barraclough
Li has lived in Baishizhou for 11 years, in a 15-square-meter one-bedroom-one-living-room suite. He moved to Baishizhou with his wife and daughter in 2008 when the monthly rent was merely RMB650. Over the years Li’s income doubled, but his rent only increased by RMB300; he felt lucky to have found such a good deal.
However, “the notice of eviction came too suddenly,” Li told Jiemian, stating that he has not received any formal written documents regarding the Baishizhou demolition plans nor a formal written eviction notice from official authorities.
A common concern among villagers with this sudden change is their children’s education.
Another tenant, surnamed Xu, has been thinking about whether to bring her children back to their hometown to study. She is a mother of two, the eldest enrolling in nearby Xiangshanli Elementary School and the youngest attending the neighboring Xiangshanli Kindergarten. Xu often pondered all night, debating, “If I continue to live in Baishizhou, my youngest can go to Xiangshanli Elementary School after two years. If we move, there is no guarantee my children will have a suitable school to attend.”
Xu eventually made up her mind to move back to her hometown with the kids, but has not had the heart to tell them yet. Reflecting upon the eight years of struggle in Baishizhou, she felt that the days there were very bitter, “but [she] will still miss it in the future.”
[Cover image courtesy of Daniel MH Chun]