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Lost Subject No. 25: the adolescent 王星超 Wang Xingchao
Discovered Missing: approximately 3–4 years ago
Location Lost: HomeShop (Xiaojingchang hutong)
Location Found: Mao’er Hutong Park, every day

“Hey, I know your face! I could swear that I have met you before!”
“Hm.”
“Did you ever live on Xiaojingchang Hutong?”
“No, never.”
“But I know your face. I have seen you before. I just have this memory of you hanging out on the street practicing 快板 (bamboo clappers).”
“Oh, well I used to live near here.”
“Where?”
“I used to live up on Xiaojingchang for a little while.”
“What! You just said you didn’t! It really is you! So, do you remember this place with a shopfront and this girl 何颖雅 Elaine W. Ho who made projects who lived there?”
“Yeah, I remember.”
“It was called HomeShop.”
“That’s right, HomeShop.”
“And that guy with the beard, 曲一镇 Qu Yizhen?”
“Yeah, I remember.”
“And a young guy with glasses, 欧阳潇 Ouyang Xiao?”
“No, I don’t remember him.”
“It still exists, it is on Jiaodaokou Beiertiao. You should come by!”
“You still make events? I could come and do a dance performance. Take my number.”
“Great. So are you in university now, how old are you?”
“No, I am working. I am 19. I work with part of the police.”
“And you do this too, this dancing? How often are you here?”
“Yes, this is what I do now. I am at this park every day. And sometimes performing.”
“Are you waiting for your friends to come? It’s a group?”
“Uh, yeah.”
“By the way, what is this dance called?”
“This is called 鬼步舞 (Melbourne Shuffle).”


*Originally shutting off Xingchao’s music to stretch, once warmed up this elder gentleman began shuffling along as well. It seems many people have found ghost-dancing useful in their own daily lives.

Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.
 

《流泥》第一期将在9月13日在线亮相—我的亲啊!为庆祝该盛事,我们将在9月14日晚7至9点在家作坊举行一场pecha kucha风格的研讨会。会中将有六个短讨论环节,每个环节都将伴有投影片,时长不会超过7分钟。讨论课题将由《流泥》的参与者与我们的朋友们决定。

我们希望生动的讨论能在会后移师酒馆,并到黑夜尽头。

在讨论中浮现的话题和主题将为下一期《流泥》提供灵感,我们由衷欢迎您的出席与洞见。

°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°

Issue 1 of Concrete Flux will be published online on the evening of Friday 13th September–ominous! To celebrate the publication of the first issue, we will be holding an evening of ‘pecha kucha’ style talks, punctuated by questions and discussion, on Saturday 14th from 7-9 pm at HomeShop. There will be six such short talks, each of no more than 7 minutes and each accompanied by a slideshow. The talks will be from our contributors and people from the broader Concrete Flux community.

We hope that a lively discussion will spill over in to a local bar afterwards and continue into the wee small hours.

The topics and themes raised during the event’s discussions will go on to inform our choice of theme for the next issue of the Concrete Flux journal. Your presence and input are valued!

 

Special note:
To introduce what Concrete flux aims to promote, we wanted to start off with a participatory project to encourage exploration within the city. So we created a sound-based participatory event and installation, Audio Archaeology 声音考古学. The event starts soon–in just under a month!–and we are seeking some help with covering the costs of the required materials from friends, family and anyone with an interest in what we are doing.

Please have a read through the full description of our project here http://www.kapipal.com/audio_archaeology and consider contributing any amount from £1.50 upwards. There are also goodies available for larger contributions!

Thank you! And please help to spread the word!


Two interviews in 3 days in March by Asta of Peking University, and photographer and writer Lo Yin Shan. Is this community-based practice?

 

In the springtime HomeShop had a few visitors, as well as some very curious though inevitable vacancies (including the seeming concerted evaporation of occupants from the workshare space a month ago; now much ameliorated). During this time, and facing an uncertain future, a number of us began considering our established models of supporting and running the space. A discussion among various Beijing-based art spaces and projects also attempted to find some answers to the question of what kinds of activities are felt to be needed now in this city, and how they could be sustained.

 


On a return, the Teapot Exhibitions space was found to have been shattered to pieces, December 2012.

 

For a brief moment, following the positive experience of having UK-based artist Maurice Carlin here as first “official” resident, the idea to pursue a residency program seemed like a good way to regularly fill space and provide some inquisitive new energy, as it keeps many a Beijing institution afloat or well-padded. We consulted our friend at a space in Caochangdi to hear about how their program is run, but found that—however viable such an option might turn out—in our case it would veer down a path of specific identity and program that few of the organizers at HomeShop were really willing to adjust to. Add to that the preparation time required, and we would be looking at the rest of the year singularly geared to making this transition to something we didn’t necessarily feel consensus about achieving.

 


Reinaart Vanhoe and Maurice Carlin each sojourned in HomeShop, April/May 2013.

 

Likely an existing truism: many of the awkward feelings come from more than the reality of money, but from inside the organizational structure itself. Personal relations ripple through everything we do as a group, as well as all the effects palpable to others. And to us, or to me, at least, it hasn’t always been a desired separation, us and others. But how many others? And who? On that cusp of inside and out, the question of who gets to say, who gets to decide, has never been quite satisfactory to many. “Business” and “art group” sections were proposed at one meeting that seems like ages ago; institutional affiliations too; not to mention suggestions of becoming a real shop or a gallery. (Even old Uncle Long Beard came by one day to ask about starting a restaurant in the front space—if not at our friend’s place across the hutong, which looked empty to him.)

 


A curious neighbour ponders the latest question on the 問題 blackboard, May 2013.

 

The physical and social scale of HomeShop seems perfect for trying out the sticky substance of collaborative authorship, but each move has been prone to all the foibles and concentrations of skills and interests particular to the individuals involved. We could say this is natural, but it essentially means a certain recurring, quasi-naturalized predisposition of roles.

 


The Party Project does portraits! And political parties! Find out more! Ongoing deal!

 

This is me editorializing—when my tone turned whiny, another recent returning visitor, Reinaart Vanhoe, recommended giving space and recognizing the specific qualities of the individuals involved. This is true. If part of HomeShop’s character these last couple of years (regardless of which direction it goes in) might have been in prioritizing the values that exist in between those frequenting HomeShop, this may also be seen as its radical difference from many other spaces, organizations, and groups in Beijing. This is also what has left it open to critiques of opacity, inwardness and lack of structure; at the same time, this is what makes it exhausting and insecure. It’s a fiction.

 


The Aquaponics Workshop, started in early Spring 2013, is finally achieving system operation, with fish on the way any week now!

 

Giving space: how to understand that at this point? A time that oscillates between a feeling of latter-day busywork and a sense that we are only now achieving certain promises embedded in this inhabitation of HomeShop? Ambiguity and ambivalence sit side by side in the shopfront window with all its virtuality, while this discussion on giving space is for the most part conducted behind closed doors (like this one). In such discussions we talk about what will happen next year when the space’s contract meets its maker. Sometimes it feels a decision has already been made, and sometimes it feels that oscillation has produced the possibility that this decision is not up to us. It might appear in the question, will this given space be missed? or maybe rephrased as, who wants to take it? The offer is there.

 


Pointy, circa 2011, one of the many errant cats who have lived and loved and left HomeShop.

 

*Fine print: Taking the given space wouldn’t be a deal made for survival. In any case, debts may be incurred, facilities and signatures may be withdrawn, free labour may be cut back partially or in whole, and name may be subject to change. Then, you ask, what is offered, exactly? What is it without those things, and what can it become? If you’ll excuse the slippery language, what would be circumscribed by a survivability clause would be a set of possibilities, a certain kind of ground for particular approaches to say, art, design, critical engagement, social organizing, self-determination etc. to come into their own forms. Survivability in a sense meaning, to live beyond the lives of the individuals involved. Again, this is not about legacy, nor about feeling good about taking exits—it is about seeing that value is held by more than this current group of individuals, and recognizing the limits of these individuals in giving space.
My friend, a plurality is on offer! The Beijing wind is on offer!

**Disclaimer: these statements (which are actually questions) are the responsibility of the author and do not reflect the views of HomeShop; no offer is valid unless expressly stipulated by HomeShop.

***Note: This text was written several months ago but put on hold pending a host of unresolved questions that may have caused confusion about what was really being addressed here. At the present time, there are indeed more open discussions about the uncertain future and ways to confront the realities of rising rents, authorship, structure, and cooperation. If you are interested in joining this discussion, get in touch! More people are needed. More info on that soon…

 

“In defence of… Gentrification”
By Igor Rogelja

My first doubts and concerns over how the term gentrification is used didn’t arise so much from a discussion on the applicability of the term in different socio-economic contexts. Neither were they stoked by the oft-cited misuse of the term by social observers, or by a desire to go against the grain of critical urban geography’s canon of work.  While these are all issues I’ve worked with, the first time I actually, physically, flinched was when a city official from Kaohsiung, a Taiwanese port city, used the term in an overwhelmingly positive way, leaving no doubt that such a spatial restructuring was desirable: gentrification as a tool for development. There are of course several possible explanations – maybe the term was simply misused. Perhaps it is a rare and naïve display of candour that city bigwigs in most Western cities have long since learned to avoid, using instead either vacuous terms produced by PR departments or hiding behind complicated urban planning argot. Or both.

And yet, the notion of gentrification as a function of urban development opens new insights into the ways in which cities (especially in rapidly industrializing and developing countries) are being altered, with municipalities increasingly mimicking the input required to set off a gentrifying chain of event which, presumably, result in pleasant streets populated by attractive coffee-drinking people. In a manner that is both real estate-driven and top-down (and thus markedly different from real estate-led gentrification in New York, or the gentrification ground-zero of London’s Islington, where Ruth Glass first coined the term), it is as much a modernist state project, as well as a distinctly free-market driven process. Within the tension between these two loaded terms, project vs. process, I however see no inherent contradiction. Indeed, one finds an analogous shift within the mode of governmentality1 of the contemporary state, where broad societal visions (the project) are being complemented by a web of communities, stakeholders and interests, often reinterpreting the work of the state into a facilitator of personal (and corporate) aspiration, i.e. facilitating the process. Within this new city, whether we call it neoliberal or late-capitalist, gentrification has come to be seen as a central process (or culprit) by which spatial restructuring takes place and by which dilapidated housing stock is replaced, rejuvenated or otherwise shifts from the poor to the aspirational – often with at least the tacit support of the planning authority. Detected all over the globe and discussed in different academic fields, it is no surprise the term is both over-used (spurring Loretta Lees (2003) to upgrade it to ‘super-gentrification’), as well as maligned for its lack of clarity and tendency to obfuscate other important issues – a case which Julie Ren makes in a previous post about Beijing on this blog.

If we however suppose that the radical spatial restructuring in Asian cities is ‘something else,’ especially in the time since the idea of the creative city travelled there via epistemic networks in the late ’90s and 2000s, this requires a back to basics approach. My intention is to try to vindicate the use of the term even in contexts as varied as Beijing, Bangkok or Kaohsiung by looking at gentrification as a function of a late-capitalist spatial restructuring, especially when symbolic capital (Ren Xuefei, 2011) is taken into consideration and the producers of the symbolic meaning, Florida’s ‘creative class,’ become important actors in the field. What this means in practice is that gentrification by culture has become the dominant trend in Greater China, though it can be broken down further to identify both state, commercial and independent actors. Whereas ‘galleries, cafés and artists’ was a well-known gentrification cocktail in the West, these are now joined by an entrepreneurial state, advised by an epistemic community of planners and businessmen, and often following pre-existing templates.  While examples ranging from Beijing’s hutong chic to Shanghai’s Xintiandi have been variously termed as commercialization, preservation, adaptive re-use and gentrification, they have in common a transition from being a place of local (and often marginal) meaning to (replicable) places of consumption and source of pride for the city authorities. Such also, is an example of Kaohsiung’s Park Road, once a messy stretch of hardware shops which has recently been redeveloped, as the jargon goes, into an artsy park as part of a city-wide effort to catch the creativity bandwagon.

Formerly, the area was known as Hardware Street (Wujinjie) and was very much a proxy for the city’s economic history – Taiwan’s dirty, sweaty port city where ships were disassembled, sugar exported and naphtha cracked. It is also a uniquely diverse city, as the rapid industrialisation pulled in large numbers of rural workers into the city – unusual for Taiwan’s otherwise rather tame rural migration. Since the late 1990s however, and for reasons deeply connected to Taiwan’s two party system (Kaohsiung is traditionally the bastion of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party), the city has embarked on an ambitious plan to rebrand itself from cultural desert to cultural hub. In itself, this is nothing remarkable; Manchester, Liverpool, Bilbao, Detroit have all had such turns in urban policy, successful or not. Rather, what is of interest in this case is the micro-level to which the city was engaged in the project of beautification and revitalization of the ailing blue-collar neighbourhood through which Hardware Street cuts. With its cluttered shop floors, oil slicks and loud noise of clunking metal, the street had been earmarked for ‘beautification’ in the run up to the World Games in 2009 in order to create a tourist corridor towards the Pier-2 Art Centre (a reused set of warehouses housing a municipal modern art complex) and to complete a bicycle lane network across the Yancheng neighbourhood (another strategy to attract the ‘creative class’). The demolition was divided in four stages, with the first one beginning in 2007 and the last one completed in 2011. Though the land is publicly owned and a park had been loosely envisaged in the area for decades, the issue here is not so much of legality – in any case the Taiwanese 1998 Urban Renewal Act grants municipal authorities ample powers to reconstruct urban areas, especially on publicly owned land.

Rather, the motivation for the decision is the key to understanding the way in which a gentrified ‘creative Kaohsiung’ is being constructed, not only as a physical space, but also as a space of identity and a new authenticity for Kaohsiung – a city of industrial heritage and a creative future. In this case, the radical restructuring of the abstract space of the plan caused the demolition of over 400 shops and adjacent living quarters and the forced historicization of what was very much a living industry. Thus, shops selling and repairing machine parts were replaced by public art and street furniture constructed out of the very parts which were the hardware shops’ livelihood, commissioned by the municipality and produced by local artists, many of whom have been intimately involved with the setting up of the nearby art centre as well. The area is now a showcase of Kaohsiung’s authenticity, its gritty industrial character now cleaned up for public consumption.

Faced with questions of identity and the allocation of space, the ‘authenticity’ of the area fragmented, as Sharon Zukin has shown on the case of New York’s gentrifying neighbourhoods (2010). In this case, the lived authenticity of the chaotic metalworking shops and the illegible network of unmapped lanes and gaps in the organically (illegally) grown neighbourhood is substituted by a planned authenticity of a different kind – in itself an important trait of gentrification. The industrial character of the area is translated through the instrument of public art into a dizzying array of street furniture and installations, all of which explicitly reference the history of the area – the irony is not lost on the remaining shopkeepers: ‘They took the things that kept us alive and made them dead,’ noted Mr. Bai, a hardware shop owner, while an elderly resident took things one step further, calling the park a place for dogs to shit where rich people can jog around, adding she has no time for such leisurely activities.

Though not explicitly expressed in city planning documents, the notion of authenticity is crucial to this neighbourhood from an economic standpoint and explains the effort to gentrify the area, rather than raze it completely or simply build a new part of town. Not only is the city government promoting mass tourism in the area, but a planned creative industry park also relies on the area’s authenticity to attract investment – most recently a large Hollywood digital effect firm. The firm, Rhythm&Hues, was initially being groomed by the municipal economic development office to occupy a suburban software industry park, but decided to base itself in an old warehouse instead, embracing the industrial feel of the building, which was inaugurated by Ang Lee in November 2012. The area thus gained a new role as a creative park and tourist attraction, though many residents are demonstrably cool towards the weekend crowds, and have moreover found alternative uses for some of the artwork as chairs or even places to dry laundry.

While property-owning residents might financially benefit from the long-term revitalization of the area, the displacement of poorer residents by wealthier newcomers is of course never a total or complete process.2 What is striking is that what had occurred in Kaohsiung has all the outer marks of gentrification, with old shops closing and giving ways to design boutiques and artisanal coffee shops, followed by a 30% increase in real estate prices. And yet, this was a top-down initiative with clearly stated goals, an agreed timeline and due process in the city’s council. It was a project that relied from the outset on the collaboration of the city’s artist community, as well as the approval of the construction businesses, which were granted permissions to construct taller residential buildings in the area.
Gentrification by fiat, if you will.

What then about this example from one Asian marginal city is relevant to the rehabilitation of ‘gentrification’ as a useful term in describing the changes befalling Asian cities? Is it not simply a project of demolition, an Haussmannian echo of sorts? The simple answer is yes, that is precisely what it is, but within it lies the idea that art and creativity can and will change urban space, and beyond that, that they will change it in a way that accommodates ‘Soho-style living,’ as the city’s urban plan bluntly puts it. The legacy of a gentrifying New York or London does not necessarily live unchanged as an endless repetition of successive waves of real-estate price hikes and demographic changes. It manifests itself also in the ordered representations of space of the urban plan. But when aimed at working class neighbourhoods, it is (and always has been) a deproletarization of space; pausing on whether it is ‘planned’ (slum-clearance) or ‘organic’ (gentrification) is in many cases distracting from the point that the displacement typical of gentrification is not only the displacement of people, but in a Lefebvrian way, of the lived space of a neighbourhood for financial and political gain of established elites. To reiterate, the imposition of new conceptual space upon the city is not a natural or spontaneous process. Seeing such changes outside of the social and spatial context is not only incomplete, but also conservative in that it perpetuates neoclassical economists’ insistence on the emergent qualities of gentrification or slum-clearance, endowing urban restructuring with an air of unavoidable, organic change – precisely what Kaohsiung’s municipality tried to convey by consigning to history and artistic representation the living, clunking workshops of its waterfront.

Going back to gentrification as function of development, I suggest the baggage with which the term is burdened is what gives it the critical punch needed to make sense of the spatial transformations in Asian cities, where expectations of development clearly exhibit a tendency to create both the disinvestment needed to create ‘gentrifiable’ areas, as well as a pool of gentrifiers. While the debate between production-side and consumption-side explanations of gentrification thankfully no longer rages, we will be well served to remember that both explanations agree that gentrification as a phenomenon is essentially conditioned by a late-capitalist system. In China especially, where a retreating state has left municipal authorities dependent on land-dealing and thus with a clear interest in rising (or raising) land values, a race towards ever greater exploitation of urban space may manifest itself as either commercialization, gentrification or simply urban development, all of which are apparent not only in the physical space, but in the abstract, conceived space which seeks to impose itself on the city. Viewed in this light, the opening of a café or gallery may not be as serious a sign of gentrification as the commitment of district chiefs to pursue creative policies, though how far the market-driven side will progress remains to be seen. In Kaohsiung certainly, gentrification by culture remains a tool in the arsenal of urban policy.

1) Miller and Rose’s “Governing the Present” (2008) is a great look at the questions of governmentality in advanced liberal democracies, though many nuances equally apply to non-democratic states in advanced stages of development. 

2) While the displacement of working class residents with middle class newcomers is the usual hallmark of gentrification, I reject notions that this substitution must be complete. Vast stretches of London’s Hackney or Islington still remain predominately working class, while in other cases, such as on Broadway Market in Hackney, the mainly Turkish immigrant landlords have benefitted from rising commercial rents. Despite this, both areas remain clear-cut cases of gentrification.

Igor Rogelja is a PhD candidate at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. His research is focused on the role of creative city theory and art in urban redevelopment in Taiwan and China.

II:回归周口店之旅将在5月1日早6点在北京协和医院东门口正式启动。自计划公布以来,我们已经收到了很多十分有趣的项目题案,当然题案征集仍在继续,请想跟我们一起去但尚未取得联系的同志抓紧了!

请参与者尽量选择舒适合脚的鞋,带上所有出行必备的物品并想办法将行走过程以不同方式记录下来。不计划行走全程的参与者可以在途中与我们相遇。沿途沟通请致电15001127304(英)18910792649(中)。如果你想在周口店过夜,请在4月28日之前与我们取得联系,统一订房,费用由个人承担。第二天,我们可以一起“参观”周口店猿人遗址公园,呵呵。一路顺风

The journey back to Zhoukoudian starts by meeting at 6 am on May 1st at Xiehe Hospital.
A number of participants have signed up with their contributions to the story, but participation is still open to all!
Please consider footwear and clothing carefully and any equipment necessary for your participation. Also consider methods of documentation.

Participants can also join at other points along the way if not for the whole walk. Please call 15001127304 (EN) 18910792649 (中文) to find out the progress of the walk and possible meeting points.

If you wish to stay overnight with the group, please let us know by April 29th so that we can make a reservation at a local hotel (costs covered by individuals).
The next day, we will proceed on to the Peking Man site at Zhoukoudian where we will make some collective actions.
Bon voyage!

章节…… Chapters:
蓝T恤 The Blue Shirts ……………………………………………. Adam Chapluski
地形与地层 Landscape Stratoscape …………………………. Patrick Conway
砖头到水泥再归来 from bricks to concrete and back …  François Dey
当穴居人碰上太空人 Caveman Meets Spaceman ………. Michael Eddy
北京人拉松 Pekingathon ………………………………………… Gordon Laurin
丽莎 LISA …………………………………………………………….. 李丽莎 Lisa Li
留 Remains ………………………………………………………….. 欧阳潇 Ouyang Xiao
北京人,你是谁?Peking Man, who are you?……………. 植村絵美 Emi Uemura

…………………………………………和其他勇敢的冒险者…. And other brave adventurers

……………………………………………. 包括 ….. including …. 曲一镇 Qu Yizhen, Alessandro Rolandi, Orianna Cacchione, 王大船家 Wang Dachuan and family

项目招集 /// Call for Participation


直立行走II:重返周口店

5月1日,家作坊将举办第二期“直立行走”项目,再次步行去往北京房山区周口店北京猿人遗址公园。目的地离北京约60公里,耗时约18个小时,晚上在周口店过夜。 作为一个公众参与项目,我们希望每一位参与者能在活动开始前规划出自己的行走路线(走不了全程没有问题,量力而行),并以其为基础,将行走本身视为一种写作,在运动中构建另一种轨迹,无论是历史、个体故事、 意识形态还是任何一种同一性或连贯逻辑的生产或颠覆。 沿途的历史遗迹、当代景观与日常生活系统都可以成为构成上述运动的概念/物理节点。 如果你对本项目感兴趣,欢迎你将你的想法与联系方式发送到我们的邮箱lianxi@homeshop.org.cn。 我们也会于近期发布本次活动的具体日程安排与活动背景。

路线图:
https://maps.google.ca/maps/ms?msid=210439387421320430949.0004d924ec7b761d071c3&msa=0

 

Walking Erect II: Journey back to Zhoukoudian

On May 1st, HomeShop is embarking on its second walk to Zhoukoudian, location of the famed Peking Man archaeological site. At nearly 60 km from central Beijing, it is a full day’s walk, and our plan includes an overnight stay near the site. However, this journey through time and space is open to those willing to participate.

See the basic route here:
https://maps.google.ca/maps/ms?msid=210439387421320430949.0004d924ec7b761d071c3&msa=0

As a walking project, we are taking the actual historical as well as current sites we pass by as sites for a series of actions along the way, triggering a form of writing-by-walking. (Participants who can’t commit to such distances can also come in at certain points along the route.)

Because of the destination’s symbolic place in modern history and contested place in prehistory, we invite participants to consider histories, stories and false trajectories as contributions, in relation to particular features of the route. The schedule and background of this walk will be rendered in detail soon. Please indicate your desire to participate a.s.a.p. and send your proposals to lianxi@homeshop.org.cn

Join us!

 

On the Problem of Transplantation
Julie Ren (julie.ren@hu-berlin.de) visited HomeShop in 2012 and spoke with Elaine W. Ho and Fotini Lazaridou-Hatzigoga about the various issues around initiating and sustaining art/project spaces in Beijing and Berlin for her Humboldt University dissertation research. While gentrification is not her area of research, it is something she is trying to approach critically, especially as a dominant framing of urban change. In preparation for an upcoming publication on the topic, she continued the discussion with Michael Eddy.

 
Julie: I’m still doubtful about applying the gentrification lens to Beijing, and I plan to focus my contribution to the book on the problems of transplanting urban concepts. To me, it’s a hermeneutic lens and it reflects the need to interpret urban change in terms of dominant academic canons—whether it’s global/mega cities, cosmopolitanism, network societies, mobility paradigms… or gentrification.

My doubt is two-fold. First, I’m skeptical about its being an accurate means to interpret the socio-economic and demographic changes in Beijing neighborhoods. Sure, many neighborhoods are visibly changed, there is high turnover of residents and prices are increasing. But is this the result of an urban gentry moving in to displace residents with a lower average income? With a view to neighborhoods such as Gulou and Wudaoying within the 2nd ring, this seems more a top-down business development scheme rather than a residential real estate-driven change. Especially in the Hutongs, I wonder about the issue of demographic change – to what extent is it income and to what extent is it elder residents being replaced with younger residents? To what extent are they being displaced, and to what extent are Hutong residents moving out to become new landlords? 

Secondly, I’m concerned about the embedded normative question of: Should we interpret urban change in Beijing in terms of gentrification? As I stated above, I think it’s a hermeneutic instrument that reflects the academic background and experiences of those seeking to understand urban change in Beijing. Moreover, there are assumed notions of urban inequality and social justice accompanying the term that allude to the realities of a neoliberal city in which mobility and privilege often function in tandem. Yet mobility in Chinese cities is a fraught issue, often a result of broad macroeconomic changes driving rural poor to find work in cities, exacerbated by remittance obligations and a lack of legal status. (A much more pressing issue of urban inequality might be Hukou reform rather than neighborhood-level change.) 
It just seems to me there are fundamental assumptions about gentrification that fail to account for the realities of the urban context in Beijing. I can understand why especially the growing international community in Beijing might be thinking in these terms, but I wonder if it doesn’t have more to do with them, than the city in which they live?
 
Michael: As for your first doubt, it is well-founded. However, I wonder where you can draw the line between the good-intentioned BoBos and top-down gentrification, even in Beijing. If you think of the Richard Florida school of thought and the thousand waterfront loft conversions and creative districtings it inspired toward the “creative cities” obsession, I would still need to consider the relation of that to possible forms of gentrification.

Perhaps I misunderstand the technicalities of the terms. But it is on the one hand often a rebranding and intensification of the gentrification already at work somewhere, as well as not totally predictable as to its effects. Some go with it and profit from it—but maybe now I am thinking of the experience of being in China. Mai Dian (a friend from Wuhan) has been involved in projects about development around East Lake, notably the privatization of once publicly accessible lands, including “Our East Lake.” For his contribution to the recently-released Wear journal 3, published by HomeShop, he discussed one of the problems in the activists’ resistance to the developments: that many of the farmers and other landowners who they would have hoped to share some solidarity with, had been more disarmed by the imagoes of “contemporary living” presented by the developments and ideas of progress than gathering together a concerted resistance.

Because of its action of government-aided corporate appropriation of large tracts of land, maybe it is not realistic to call this gentrification; my only curiosity is in this imaginary relation to development and contemporaneity. Maybe it would be absurd to humor the idea of a kind of “self-gentrification” though. This imaginary to aim for is brilliantly embodied in the fetishization and commodification of culture—with contemporary art sitting near the top. In many places, including China, art is braided within this tension; it is hard as an artist not to fall on the conspirators’ side at least sometimes.

Richard Florida’s insistence that the economic category of cities could be assessed and enhanced by the number of “creatives” (and homosexuals) is not totally inapplicable if you look at urban change in Beijing, which is not to say that his theories are correct (look at Martha Rosler’s text for an overview of the problems relating art to real estate).
To take a tasteless example, the 798 art district taking over the factory spaces near Jiuxianqiao Road was “authentically” started by artists, and only much later became an art district by edict. Art-inspired rebranding of a place with actual roots in artists first settling there is also taking place in Tongzhou, Caochangdi (which has so far miraculously managed to avoid being razed for at least 2 years since I heard the threat) and other far-out places. In these places, complex cooperation and co-existence between migrant workers, landlord and the art world takes place, though it surely totally disfigures their original states. I guess you could say these also launched a thousand top-down developed gated communities themed on art as well.

In our experience at HomeShop, it is a slightly different story inside the 2nd Ring Road. To some degree, there are the local administrative plans—and in some areas, like Dashilan, I should also mention there are at least nominal attempts to retain local character and occupants at least for the foreseeable future as an architecture firm (sorry can’t recall name at present) develops the area—but the aspect of cultural tourism predates that. (For instance, Nanluoguxiang, which is now the pinnacle of hutong tourism, may have been initiated by some locals, though at present I can’t substantiate this beyond hearsay and less than rigorous journalism.) You also see local hutong-dwellers making adjustments to benefit from the potential returns of tradition (Elaine mentions this in one of her posts on the HomeShop blog, though the residents she mentions aren’t well-to-do by most measures).
HomeShop also adds to the ingredients of the area, of course—I am not sure whether I mentioned an architect friend took over the space across the hutong that used to be an old Shouyi shop? I feel that is a pretty textbook gentrification move, assisted by our presence there to some degree, even if things like this only happen in pockets—but that’s how it happens, if I understand correctly.

So I agree that it is different in China, for instance these several levels co-existing sometimes precisely because they are so different (in the cases of migrant workers living next to fancy condo complexes… at least temporarily), and because of government involvement awkwardly fitting, but I do not think it is a normatively inappropriate to use the term in selected circumstances, especially those relating to culture.
 
“Artlife,” an upscale mixed use residential development under construction on a stretch of highway near Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province.
 
 
Julie: I’ll pick up with the idea you suggest at the end, of a selective application of gentrification to culture. The example of the architect displacing the Shouyi shop could certainly be a part of gentrification, but is it culturally-led gentrification? Or is it more simply economic? Gentrification and culture are connected in a multitude of ways, but I think most commonly, culture is seen as a driver of gentrification. And it’s this conceptualization of culturally-led or culturally-driven gentrification (in its pioneering activity) that most directly, most explicitly implicates artists and creative industry workers. It is rare, let’s say, for an artist or graphic designer or architect to push out a low-income shop in London. More common would be for them to inhabit available spaces in unkempt neighborhoods, rendering them attractive for the middle classes, the urban gentry, who in turn do the heavy-lifting in terms of displacement. This is at least the “common” example, but perhaps this is how Beijing differentiates itself – artists/creatives can directly displace lower income people. Whether the Shouyi shop pushed out or they moved due to the cost of rent, I’m assuming from the example that the architect was able to pay more rent than the Shouyi shop, implying the rising cost of the area, and ensuing displacement. What I find dangerous is simply attaching “gentrifier” to anyone who lives in/moves to a city and works in a creative field.

The Hutong neighborhood changes definitely deserve more attention. But I wonder if the changes in areas like Nanluoguxiang and Wudaoying (which you described as Hutong tourism) should really be understood in terms of gentrification. Why don’t we interpret it in terms of commercialization? I also don’t think enough attention is brought to the longer view – the issue of preservation in the context Hutong evisceration. In German there is the term “Aufwertung” which means “revaluation, giving something additional value,” and I wonder if those changes can’t also be interpreted in terms of simply urban regeneration. This is what I mean by the “gentrification hermeneutic” – that it is a way that people interpret changes, because that is how urban change happens in the cities we are most familiar with. (I mean, it’s its own canon of urban theory!) Of course, the commercialization comes at a cost to the neighborhood, to what it looks like, to what people do there, to the transformation of a residential area into a leisure destination. But, like the case above, I don’t want to label all architects moving in as gentrifiers, and I don’t want to label any street with a cafe as a gentrified area, unless they are really participating in an active process of displacing low-income residents with a higher income group of residents. But, like Elaine said, it’s often the residents themselves participating in these new commercial ventures, so I wonder about actual displacement…

In relation to the attempt to preserve “local character” I want to put in question the idea of an “authentic” art area. From the interviews I did last year, there is broad consensus about the development of 798—from its initiation to its Disney-fication through to the current state. The grassroots nature of its initiation is legendary, especially in the broader scheme of centralized urban planning in China, and served as the inspiration for starting my dissertation. Beyond the consensus about the history, however, the views of artists and curators I interviewed about the nature of artistic space are widely divergent, often contradictory. What is authentically creative seems to at times contradict the very nature of having a stable, long-term, protected, sustainable space. By that I mean, many artists seem to fear stagnation, and I wonder if the very idea of an “authentic” art area is not temporal? Maybe an art space can only be authentic for a moment? Is it maybe in the nature of artistic practice to also be pioneering in terms of occupying or selecting new space (BEYOND the cheap rent argument)?

Michael: Indeed, I use the word “authentic” with great reluctance, and only in the face of the top-down approach, whether that is government or Florida-inspired regeneration. I agree with your assessment of the term otherwise, and how artists are not really looking for it, or expressing or embodying it.

I also realized I had skipped over the point of commercial vs. residential change, which I think is harder to say. Unless we very narrowly define them, figuring out the precise dynamic of the distinction between commercialization and gentrification in that sense would be quite difficult though! It suggests misuse of the terms by many commentators.

Oh, and though this would not represent a very general trend, the issue of how foreigners interact in local economies is something else, both influential (defining standards, prices) and powerless (subject to higher prices at times) at the same time. Really quite marginal though, unless on symbolic level.

Okay, that’s just a quick reply, gotta run! Cappuccinos 加油!


The neighboring Shouyi shop, photographed July 13th, 2012.

春天来了!起床,来城里种菜

在过去的两个星期,家作坊与北京都市农耕联盟的简明清准备了一个很NB的项目:复合养殖! 想法是在屋顶上构建一个鱼与植物的共生系统。具体措施是在一个面积15平方米的穹形暖室中,放置一个容量为2千升的鱼缸并在鱼缸的周围种植蔬菜。计划目前尚处于筹备阶段,在基本结构完成之后,我们会在下个月开始养鱼。如果你有种植,养鱼,工程设计,网页设计,翻译等方面的才华,并希望加入到这个项目中,那就尽管来吧。

3月9号(周六)下午两点,我们将在家作坊召开一个项目筹策会,给参与者介绍一下本项目与复合养殖的基本知识。超希望你的参与!欢迎!

Spring is in the air! Let’s wake up from hibernation and plant the city.

Over the last weeks, we (HomeShop and Beijing Urban Farmers Union’s Jonas Nakonz) have been preparing a pilot project for urban aquaponics in HomeShop. The aim is to grow fish and vegetables in an integrated system on the roof. So far, we’ve been gathering information and creating a rough design for a 2000 Liter fish tank and about 10m2 of vegetables, in a geodesic dome greenhouse. Now it’s a matter of refining the design, sourcing components, and starting to build. We hope to add fish to our tank within a month from now. We would be glad for any contribution of ideas/skills in gardening, fish farming, building, engineering, web programming, translation, etc. Everybody is cordially invited to join our learning journey!

We meet at HomeShop this Saturday, March 9th at 2pm for a kickoff meeting. For newcomers, the idea of aquaponics will be introduced. We’ll discuss where we’re at and how to proceed. With a little luck, we may be ready to build the greenhouse structure that day. (If we aren’t killed by sandstorms.)

北京都市农耕联盟
Beijing Urban Farmers Union

日期/时间 date__ 9月7日周日,下午5点 | Friday, 7 September, 17:00
地点 location__ 家作坊 HomeShop

(在家)堆肥工作坊,北京都市农耕联盟

第一次北京都市农耕联盟的活动反响不错,大家都表示要继续开展一系列的工作坊和会议来继续学习如何在城市内种植。第一步当然是土壤,但是如何获得土壤和有机肥料在城市里一直是个难题;而同时,周围的填埋场63%填埋的却是厨余垃圾,在污染环境。所以,厨余堆肥毫无疑问是都市农耕的优先行动之首。

2012年9月7日下午5点,也就是本周五下午5点,我们很荣幸的邀请到一位很特别的专家来分享户用厨余堆肥技术,她是来自日本旅居柏林的艺术家、园艺师Ayumi Matsuzaka。在过去几年中,Ayumi Matsuzaka在全世界推介她在食物,废弃物及自然循环方面的知识。最近她也参加了在伊比利亚当代艺术中心的“改变的力量!美学与可持续性的探索”系列活动。如果你错过了她在伊比利亚当代艺术中心的活动,人生将在家作坊给你第二次机会,不容再次错过哦!

我们将会了解有关在柏林的都市农耕运动,重点学习这种适用于公寓、阳台或者楼顶的小规模无臭味的堆肥方法。如果你有一个有盖的桶或者箱子(不超过40L),你可以带来参加这个工作坊,之后就可以带着属于你的“启动工具包”回家!

请提前注册,我们好准备相应的材料。谢谢

Beijing Urban Farming Union: home composting workshop

The first Beijing Urban Farming Union event has met with great interest and we vowed to continue a series of workshops and meetings to learn about growing food in the city. It all begins with the soil, but accessing soil and organic nutrients has proven to be a problem in the city; meanwhile, the dumpsites are still filled with 63% kitchen waste, polluting the environment. So practical solutions for home composting are at the top of the priority list.

This Friday (7 September 2012) at 5pm, we will have the pleasure to learn a proven home composting method from a very distinguished specialist. Ayumi Matsuzaka is a japanese artist and gardener living in Berlin; she has travelled the world spreading her knowledge on food, waste, and natural cycles for several years; in Beijing she also takes part of the sustainability/art series “Examples to Follow” at Iberia Art center. For those who couldn’t meet her there, life gives you a second chance at HomeShop. Don’t miss it!

We will learn about the urban gardening movement in Berlin and focus on a small-scale non-smelly composting method for your apartment/balcony/rooftop. If you have a used bucket or box with a lid (up to 40 liters), you can bring it to the workshop and take home your starter kit.

Please register in advance for us to prepare the materials.

价格 cost__ 20元

报名请联系 please rsvp__ lianxi@homeshop.org.cn

北京都市农耕联盟 启动会:8月11日,16:00 @家作坊
Beijing Urban Farming Union kickoff meeting: August 11, 16:00 @ HomeShop

诚邀您来家作坊参加这次有关都市农耕交流,来认识志同道合的朋友,了解关于都市农耕的实际情况和DIY自己动手的技术,与其他朋友分享自己的知识和经验。 从哪弄土壤和肥料? 从哪获得种子? 用什么容器? 在哪种? 该如何共同努力才能把都市农耕变得更容易更有趣呢? 为了解答这些问题,我们将组织参观家作坊的实地小农场、堆肥实验及种子交换库,对小型的民间及社区农耕行动进行介绍,探讨连接不同的农耕群体(包括潜在的农耕者)并促进他们的合作的可能途径。 我们应该在城市里种植更多的粮食和蔬菜! 这次交流会就是为了邀请大家参与进来!

Please join us for a gathering at HomeShop to exchange on urban farming in Beijing. It’s an opportunity to meet likeminded people, learn some facts and d.i.y. techniques, and share knowledge and experiences. How can we access soil and fertilizer? Where can we get seeds? What materials can we use for containers, and where can we put them? How can we work together to make it easier and more fun?

To address these questions, on the agenda will be a tour of HomeShop’s on-site small farm and composting experiments and Seed Exchange Bank, presentations on small civil-society and community initiatives into agriculture in Beijing, and envisioning possible ways of linking up and cooperating among diverse groups of growers (and potential growers).

We should grow more food in the cities! This meeting is an invitation to get involved.

共同组织:家作坊和简明清
Co-organized by HomeShop and Jonas Nakonz 

其他:
在家门口种上一株黄瓜,即刻你就被转移到一个包含所有下列事物的宇宙:全球政治,复杂生态系统,社会变化,减缓气候变化,DIY技术,大大提高的生活质量和关注自然之美带来的精神上感悟。 民以食为天,但是平常你吃的食物可能带来生物多样性破坏,全球气候变化,土壤和水的污染。
数据: 在中国,农业一个部门排放的温室气体是整个工业部门的将近两倍。每年中国使用约有5千万吨化学肥料,但只有17%被作物吸收,其余的则都流失到了环境中。更不用说,每年喷洒在你食物上的150万吨农药,还有在生产这些农药过程中使用的煤炭能源。而在中国,马路上30%的耗油大卡车实际上是在运送粮食。如果你能闻到饭菜里的燃油气味,肯定吃不下饭!
中国的城市化带来了人类历史上最大规模的人口迁移,也创造了大约1万平方公里的可使用的屋顶面积,这些空间给有机种植者提供了一个庞大的舞台来解决前面提到的问题。此外,大量的有机质以厨余垃圾的形式被浪费。北京每天就填埋处理8千吨,焚烧处理2千吨厨余垃圾,而这些厨余垃圾完全经过堆肥处理制成有机肥来供都市农耕使用。 在市区,“桶园艺”令人耳目一新,尤其在中老年人中很流行。但都市农耕的潜力远远不止于此。技术琳琅满目,从利用回收的瓶子完成自灌的简易系统到由传感器控制的自动化农场,非常有意思。任何空间和环境都有其用武之地。都市农耕能把灰暗压抑的水泥空间变成令人耳目一新的的放松与聊天场所。它创新社区、交流网络、以及教育和能力建设的平台。不要再等政府来帮忙解决我们这个星球的问题。如果你种下那棵黄瓜,那么你就为一项伟大的事业贡献了一份力量!

More:
Plant a cucumber at your doorstep and you’re instantly beamed into a universe of global politics, complex ecosystems, social change, climate change mitigation, d.i.y. technology, massively improved quality of life and spiritual enlightenment contemplating the beauty of nature. Food sustains life; but eating your average food can contribute to the destruction of biodiversity, global warming and poisoning of soils and water.
Some figures: Chinese agriculture emits almost twice as much greenhouse gas than its entire industrial sector. Of the yearly 50 Million tons of inorganic fertilizer poured onto Chinese soil, only 17% is taken up by crops. The rest is “lost to the environment”. Not to mention the yearly dose of 1.5 million tons of toxic pesticides sprayed on your food, and the coal-burning energy to produce that stuff. What is more, 30% of all fuel guzzling trucks on Chinese roads are actually transporting food – if you could smell the carbon in your dish you’d choke.
Chinese urbanization – the largest migration in human history – has led to the creation of an estimated 10,000 km2 of unused rooftop area in China; that’s a big playground for organic gardeners to counter these problems. There’s tons of wasted organic matter; Beijing alone sends 8000 tons of food waste to the landfills every day and burns another 2000 tons. All of that could be put into compost bins and provide clean nutrients for your food. In Chinese cities, bucket gardening is refreshingly popular, particularly among the elderly. But the potential of urban farming goes far beyond. There are fascinating technologies, ranging from easy self-watering systems from recycled bottles to sensor-controlled automated farms. There is something smart for every space and condition. Urban farming can transform gray concrete into spaces of relaxation and dialogue. It creates community, networks of exchange, a platform for education and empowerment. Don’t wait until governments solve the problems of this planet. If you plant that cucumber, you’re part of a big thing!