Transformation and development: A student’s reflection on visiting Shenzhen

In May, the Global Transit Innovations (GTI) program coordinated a study-abroad course that took 16 University of Minnesota students to China. The intensive two-week course focused on high-density urban and regional development and included visits to five cities in the Yangtze and Pearl River Delta regions.

In this guest post, student Elmo Elsayad offers his reflections on Shenzhen, the penultimate city visited by course participants. Activities in the city included visiting Peking University Shenzhen Graduate School, touring urban villages and eco-cities, and visiting the Shenzhen Urban Transportation Center.


IMG_2363By Elmo Elsayad

In my view, the transformation of the city of Shenzhen is a breakthrough in the science of urban morphology. As a city that has been transformed in only 30 years, making use of engineering ingenuity and innovative urban transit-oriented development, Shenzhen is a successful model of quick and mature city development.

I believe that the proximity of Shenzhen to Hong Kong played an important role in the speed of this development. The vibrant economy of Shenzhen, I believe, has been made possible due to spill-over benefits and economic cooperation with Hong Kong, along with foreign investment. Shenzhen also benefited greatly from being the first established economic zone among the five special economic zones identified in China during the 1980s.

What impressed me during our site visits in the city was that pollution did not seem to be a big issue even though Shenzhen is a major manufacturing center in China. This could be due to the nature of the places that we visited, but I at least consider this to be a good sign.

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I was also very impressed to learn about Shenzhen’s master plans during our visit to the Shenzhen Urban Museum in the Futian district. Each master plan had a unique philosophy toward urban planning in Shenzhen. The first master plan focused on six cluster cities that will have growth concentration along with three highways. The second master plan was the first of its kind to implement a periphery growth clustering approach in China. (Development started to occur along the periphery of each cluster that had been identified in the first plan.) During the mid-2000s, a third master plan was proposed to implement the concept of urban regeneration areas. The idea was to demolish old buildings and build newer sustainable ones and provide higher-density facilities.

This promising development of Shenzhen, however, did not leave any room for the historical buildings and the old village fishing culture of ancient Shenzhen. The government opted to wipe out all the old buildings and focus on high-rise and modern buildings. But regarding green space and rural-urban integration in Shenzhen, my subjective personal experience was that there is a quite significant trend toward green space formation and keeping a good ratio between built-up areas and green space.

Posted in Education, Planning, Urban transportation

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