Shenzhen, China

Shenzhen is a young city of great ambitions. Since 2012, the New New Town program has aligned with the innovative forces in Shenzhen, as the New Town aims to make a massive transition from a factory- to a creative city. The INTI research aims to identify which social, economic and environmental factors need to be improved to strengthen the city’s potential. What planning concepts and new strategies can be proposed for a sustainable transformation of the city? INTI focuses on unravelling new values that are related to intrinsic Chinese urban and social qualities, which move beyond economic benefit alone. The outcomes of INTIs activity in Shenzhen will be published in the publication Shenzhen: From Factory of the World to World City, expected in July 2016.

Lying adjacent to Hong Kong in the Pearl River Delta, Shenzhen used to be an area filled with small fishing villages. It became a New Town when in 1980 the central Chinese government gave it the status of Special Economic Zone and planned a city on the location. In only thirty years, the number of inhabitants has grown from 30,000 to an unofficial count of almost fifteen million, of which 82% are immigrants. In its urge for expansion the city has swallowed up hundreds of villages, the so-called ‘urban villages’. This rapid expansion has led to a thriving economy, but also to many problems such as a massive floating population, a shortage of land and water resources, deterioration of the environment and vulnerability of the ecological system. Therefore, though only 30 years young, Shenzhen is already rethinking its economic and urban future and therefore its identity, shifting from an industrial city with a manufacturing industry to a creative city which thrives on the service- en knowledge-industry, which on top of all that also has the ambition to become the first low-carbon eco-demonstration city of China.

The transformations which have to take place are huge. In order to attract the new high-tech industries which make such high-end creative cities implies a huge demographical shift: the city plans to change its population from millions of low-skilled workers to millions of highly skilled employees. This transformations raises various questions. On the one hand there are the practical ones, such as: how can old industrial buildings be re-used in the knowledge economy Shenzhen aims to be? On the other hand there are issues in Shenzhen’s policies themselves. Shenzhen has mainly focused on policies and regulations for cultural and creative businesses, and not so much on the people that are ought to work there. Where will they live? How do they get to work?

INTI in Shenzhen
The New New Towns program aligns with the innovative forces in Shenzhen and instigates research to understand which social, economic and environmental factors need to be improved to strengthen the city’s potential. Working together, Dutch and Chinese students, scientists and design professionals aim to learn from the formal and informal socio-economic and spatial conditions. The program will subsequently build upon the perceived strengths to propose alternative models for urban planning and new concepts for economic growth based on densification, complexity and diversity. The program will focus on Shenzhen as a whole and three sites in particular, in order to introduce realistic recommendations in the field of ecology, economy and social sustainability: Guangming New Town, Luohu District and Dalang Neighborhood.

New New Towns will ultimately rethink contemporary planning concepts within Shenzhen. Up to now, the program has led to new strategies for a sustainable transformation of the city, based on the potential of the existing landscape, population and industry. This means the program will unravel new values that are related to intrinsic Chinese urban and social qualities, which move beyond economic benefit alone.



Shenzhen’s latest master plan (2009-2020) is focused on compact urban development within a spatial network. The network consists of development belts and cluster centers.



Shenzhen is currently upgrading its industry. How to deal with the vacant industrial buildings? In what way can they be re-used?



Shenzhen has an Ecological Control Line. It means nearly half of the land area is permanently prohibited from development. How to integrate the remaining landscape in future developments?