A matter of city memory

Today I want to tell a story about my hometown.

I grew up in the biggest heavy-industrial city in China, and the most intense heavy-industrial district in the city. My father is an passionate engineer, who was really proud of his work. And there were generations of engineers just like my father, devoted themselves to the development of manufacturing and heavy-industry in the early years of New China, feeling proud of their contribution. Factories, mechanical drawings and fellow kids from other engineers’ families were so common through my entire childhood. People might have bad impressions about factories, and might think this is strange, but really, I wouldn’t say this was all bad childhood experience. I thought this hard and heavy character of the neighborhood was unique, so does the city. Especially after almost all the factories were relocated to the suburbs and my family finally moved out of the neighborhood.


The city government decided to relocate the factories due to the economic recession and the process of Enterprise Reformation (Turning state-owned enterprises into private enterprises). Basically, factories were relocated to rural area, taking advantage of the low-price in countryside, and the land within the city was released and sold for high price, so that the price difference could be utilized for new development. This movement was certainly successful saving a lot of factories from bankrupt and allowing opportunities for inner city area to imply a more diverse and healthy development. The vision for the urban renewal plan after the relocation was to develop several commercial centers surrounded by upscale housing estates. This seems a fair decision to make at that time. While years later, when I revisited the district, I found that what coming together with the great renewal was also severe gentrification. Now what had replaced the factories are tons of skyscrapers one near another, the demographics and social atmosphere has totally changed. Middle-class, elites, students, and workers live in the same neighborhood, but never really communicated. The intimacy between neighbors is no longer exist, and social cohesion has been broken by the gates of those residential areas.


I kept thinking of the concept of city memory every time when I recall this story. Does the memory still matter after all the pieces are gone? I always think that memories are just passed experience, and experience is what makes a person who he is. The same thing to a city. I think it’s a terrible decision to rip off all the factories stood there for almost a century, and covered with a totally irrelevant urban fabric. The skyscrapers are compact and efficient, but at the same time, they are also isolated. They are regressive to achieve the goal of livable city. And in this case, they cut off the city memory. Under many circumstances, urban development is driven by economic benefit, but we should also be mindful in terms of the inherent social issues.



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