Tropical Geography ›› 2021, Vol. 41 ›› Issue (3): 449-460.doi: 10.13284/j.cnki.rddl.003337

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Urban Villages' Redevelopment in Cities of Migration through the Lens of Cultural Identity: A Comparative Study of Singapore and Shenzhen

Di Zeng1,2(), Jin Zhu2, Shenjing He2,3()   

  1. 1.Graduate School of Design, Harvard University, Cambridge 02138
    2.The University of Hong Kong Shenzhen Institute of Research and Innovation, Shenzhen 518057, China
    3.Department of Urban Planning and Design, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong 999077, China
  • Received:2020-09-05 Revised:2021-01-13 Online:2021-05-30 Published:2021-06-24
  • Contact: Shenjing He E-mail:dizeng@gsd.harvard.edu;sjhe@hku.hk

Abstract:

With a strong emphasis on historical heritage and culture-making, culture-led redevelopment has become an important policy in many megacities to revitalize declining areas, such as urban villages. However, local governments have different understandings of cultural development and historic preservation and often take them at face value while ignoring the internal mechanisms. For cities of migration, cultural identity has richer connotations. The time-space nexus between the origins and destinations of migrants is highly significant for fostering a diverse and more inclusive urban culture. Taking three urban villages in Singapore and Shenzhen as empirical cases and using the theoretical perspective of cultural identity, this paper explores the culture-making process in the redevelopment of urban villages. We argue that the essence of cultural identity lies in social relations, not merely in visual symbols and images, and understanding cultural identity requires comprehending the relations between the global and the local, as well as between the past and the present embedded in places. The paper starts with an interpretation of the culture-led macro policy, followed by an analysis of urban redevelopment's internal political and economic driving forces. Based on data from participant observation and semi-structured interviews in both cities, a qualitative analysis on the modality, mechanism, and influences of identity-making in urban village redevelopment was conducted. Research findings include differences in the dominant stakeholders' attitudes toward cultural identity, especially migrants' identity, in the redevelopment modalities in the two aforementioned cities. These differences have led to different outcomes. The case of Singapore's Geylang Serai Village centered on the living needs and activities of Malay migrants, who were the main residents there, to conduct the regeneration. Further, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) issued a policy to ensure residents' housing rights. Therefore, the program maintained the continuity of the existing community by protecting the spontaneously formed identity while developing the showcase economy based on simultaneous market activities. Regarding Shenzhen, developers of Nantou Ancient City and Gankeng Hakka Town focused on specific historical periods and designated the architectural style as the local characteristic in order to develop the tourism economy. However, the top-down imposed identity had little to do with the migrants' community, which led to their exclusion and broke down their established social networks, indicating that the mere focus on beautifying the physical environment will lead to gentrification catering to middle-class aesthetics. The study findings point to the conclusion that the designation of the cultural identity of a place is, effectively, the use of cultural capital. The voice of identity in cultural discourses represents the social right of a community to urban spaces. Therefore, culture-led urban village redevelopment should focus more on local communities' social relations and actual needs in order to promote a more just, inclusive, and sustainable urban redevelopment.

Key words: cultural identity, urban village, urban redevelopment, city of migration, cultural city-making, Singapore, Shenzhen

CLC Number: 

  • K901.6