Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Critical Geography’ Category

In a compelling essay on China’s urbanization project, Hyun Bang Shin argues, in part, that

China’s speculative urbanisation is both an ideological and a political project that disrupts and destroys the lives of the masses, while it is the few that benefits from it (Strategising Discontents, para. 1).

I don’t disagree with the notion that this project is both ideological and political. I also buy without reservation “disrupts.” But I wonder if the word “destroy” does justice to the ideological and political in the sense that it forgets the constructive moment of this project.

20140511-155437.jpg

Hebei Domicide

 

One of the things that may make the claiming of the city from below difficult is the impact of urbanization as a pedagogical project on those being disrupted. As I’ve discussed in previous posts (briefly) and in my recently completed dissertation (at length), they, like the city’s neighborhoods themselves, are not only being destroyed. They are also being built into something entirely new. Of course I have now gone a step too far with “entirely.” Is there something in the remains of the city and the old socialist man — some resource of critique and/or solidarity — to be drawn upon such that the right to the city might be won? If I’m not mistaken, this question lies at the centre of Shin’s essay. I suggest you have a look yourself if interested in the answer.

Contesting speculative urbanisation and strategising discontents.

via Contesting speculative urbanisation and strategising discontents.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

The recommendations here are pretty mundane*: give peasants rights over land to encourage consolidation and innovation; reform hukou to give people equal social rights; make services more efficient. Points two and three are hard to argue with as principles. Point one, of course, is seriously debatable.

Maybe it’s this early Saturday morning talking, but I found this piece somewhat underwhelming. Thoughts:

First: Is this really all World Bankers have to offer? Reform a policy that divides your entire population into two classes (yes, more complicated than that) and consigns one to relative disadvantage? Why didn’t I think of that! Improve your public services? Hm?! Get the mayor of Beijing on the horn! It seems there is poor service at the motor vehicles office!

Second: the Chinese government has been all over these problems and solutions for years. There is nothing here that they don’t already know and apparently ascribe to. Of course planning and doing are two different things.

Anyway, have a look for yourself if you’re interested in pat solutions to deeply entrenched problems.

http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/bert-hofman-highlights-the-institutional-reforms-needed-to-keep-migration-on-track-and-inequality-in-check

* In defense of mundane solutons, I offer them quite regularly myself!

Read Full Post »

My recently completed dissertation offers my own take on the process of land conversion, and I plan to pen a series of posts on the process of urbanization more generally. What interests me, of course, is not only the conversion of rural to urban land, but also the conversion of “rural lands in the city” to properly urban neighbourhoods, not to mention (and here this sentence is really getting out of hand because this my actual primary concern) the conversion of “ruralites” of both kinds into urbanites.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I’ve commented a bit on these processes in a couple previous posts (this one and that one), but haven’t yet pursued the topic at length in this venue. For some perspective on the activities of peasants opposed to the process of conversion as currently conceived, have a look at this piece on a pitchfork rebellion in Shijiazhuang, Hebei. I do have a book chapter coming out sometime this year, and I’ll be sure to talk more about that when it is released.

For now, have a look at the Wall Street Journal (Land Sales: The Ever-More Lucrative Habit China’s Officials Just Can’t Kick – China Real Time Report – WSJ.) for some bare stats on land conversion and the addictions of local officials to the money to be earned in the process.

Read Full Post »

A recent post on a blog I read is mostly intended for a crowd of academics, but I think the message is one that a general audience might also find thought provoking. There is a trend (or perhaps habit), more obvious in certain academic disciplines/fields than others, to see the fact of multiple perspectives (social, cultural, or theoretical in origin) as stripping us of our license to make moral claims about the behaviors or conditions we see in the world. Ponder for a moment the absurdity of looking at the picture linked here and and concluding, “Who am I to pass judgement on this situation? Perhaps this fellow is deeply attached to living on the streets.

This is something I struggle with not only in my work on China, but in my life in China and within a Chinese family. As a non-Chinese (i.e, culturally and in terms if citizenship), it is both the hardest and easiest thing of all to pass judgement on those things I find objectionable or even disgusting. It can be very difficult to avoid either a reflexive unreasonableness grounded in bigotry or ignorance or a total lapse into cultural/moral relativism.

The writer of this post insists that social scientists make themselves irrelevant if they refuse to take on the “messiness” they encounter by at least proposing that such messes are bad in some way or another and ought not to be allowed to persist. I would suggest that it is not just academics who face this problem. Don’t we all have an obligation to say no to (and do something about) those things we find repugnant? Of course the positions we take up will be disputable and will themselves be vigorously opposed in some quarters. But isn’t the initial step of proposing something opposable the most human and humanizing thing we can do?

Read Full Post »

Re-reading a few pieces (like this one and especially this for a more nuanced take) on China’s “ghost cities” called to mind some things I’ve read over the last number of years and, consequently, a few questions. It’s no secret that there are concerns about bubbles in China’s commercial, residential, and state infrastructure sectors. Google “ghost cities,” “China hard landing,” “China economic crisis,” or any of a hundred other similar terms and you’ll find unlimited prognosticators (both informed and not) predicting ten of the last two crashes of the Chinese economy. The general concerns are valid, of course, but I’ve long wondered to what extent the visual spectacle (see photos below or click here) of urban construction affects everyday observers ability to predict the future prospects of current developments (new neighborhoods, districts, railway stations), not to mention analysts’ ability to objectively read the underlying indicators.

20140421-090207.jpg

In my own experience of radical (re)construction and urbanization in Shijiazhuang (Hebei), what appears ghostly often becomes corporeal in short order. And to clarify that terrible metaphor, what were empty housing projects one year are sometimes filled to the brim the next. Of course my take on this is also tainted by another form of spectacle, so I’m not sure the fact of rapid occupation of neighborhoods I happen to come across indicates good anymore than the countries most famous ghost towns prove bad. If you have the time, Hessler’s Driving China is a compelling if impressionistic take on reading the spectacle of an earlier infrastructure boom.

20140421-090220.jpg

Whatever the truth (and I will be sure to let you know what it is many years after it has become obvious), it will be interesting to see what consequences China’s bubble – should it prove to be real and eventually burst – has in terms of capital growth, accumulation, and distribution. I’m particularly interested in the fate of the rural population as it is dispossessed of a long cherished birth-rite – that small piece of land that has served as a place of refuge over the past thirty years as these people have slowly made their way into the new urban China. To be sure many are purchasing (i.e., leasing long term) a new, though much more limited birth-rite in the form of a much more limited and likely better appointed apartment in the city. But where will they go in the event that a burst bubble takes even that away?

20140421-090317.jpg

Read Full Post »

If so, please don’t move it to Shijiazhuang, a city that tops the list of most polluted cities in China, if not the world. Don’t be deceived by rankings that show the city anywhere but at the top. Usually cities near or above it on the list are either part of its hinterland or downwind.

The air isn’t always bad in Shijiazhuang, but you’ll be lucky to find a day when it’s not…unless you’re my uncle and aunt, who found three miraculously clear days on their visit. Fortunately the terrible air is balanced by the welcoming and generous attitude of the great people of this city.

See this story for a discussion of the problem of pollution, a proposed solution, and some obvious objections to the idea (here is another)

20140419-075539.jpg

Top polluted cities in China at the moment I captured this image. Shijiazhuang is 4th, but most of the other cities on the list are either part of the SJZ’s hinterland or “downwind.”

20140419-080121.jpg

A rare blue sky day allowed us to capture this shot at sunset. Yes, those are apartment buildings right in the shadow of those cooling towers. If we could pan to the left we would see apartment blocks in even closer proximity to plants like this one.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: