Shenzhen: Urban Living Room and the Future of Urbanisation

The Chinese metropolis of Shenzhen recently announced development plans for its six upcoming urban living rooms

July 2019 | Report

Sunset at Shenzhen Bay. Source: Michael Yu Qian, Flikr.


The Chinese metropolis of Shenzhen recently announced development plans for its six upcoming urban living rooms


It has become a trend in the West to describe a new development area as a city’s “front porch” or “beating heart”, but in the Chinese city of Shenzhen, planners are using the term “urban living room” to describe the upcoming sites that will be greeting and hosting guests visiting the city in the future.


The Shenzhen Municipal Government recently revealed six new urban living rooms in its 2019 Work Report, pledging to accelerate the development and construction of these key areas to build a green and smart city of the future. The six announced urban living rooms are: Qianhai New City Centre, Shenzhen Bay Super Headquarters Base, Xiangmihu, Guangming Science City, Dayun New City and Baoan Central District.


This article examines the development plans for three of these urban living rooms, illustrating why Shenzhen is among the most exciting cities in China to do business in.


Qianhai: Building a Distinctive Waterfront City


Master plan for Qianhai Water City.


Located on the west coast of Shenzhen and adjacent to Hong Kong and Macau, Qianhai covers approximately 15 km2 of reclaimed land. Its strategic geographical advantage is utilised to strengthen the partnership between Shenzhen and Hong Kong. Since 2010, the Shenzhen government has actively pushed for the transformation of Qianhai into the “Manhattan” of the Pearl River Delta, providing it with greater legal and administration autonomy that has, until now, never been granted by the State Council.


The mountain, forest, river, bay, island and sea are all core natural components of Qianhai’s landscape, and they are all heavily prioritised in the overall planning and design of this urban living room. Integrating the landscape with the cityscape is the essence of the “landscape urbanism” concept proposed by James Corner Field Operations, the lead consultant company responsible for the masterplan of Qianhai Water City. The result is a hyper-dense, yet ecologically sensitive urban territory that offers an iconic waterfront, diverse building stock, cultural and recreational features, and a series of unique, interconnected open public spaces.


Qianhai’s development work is expected to be completed by around 2020. The 15 km2 waterfront city will become the world’s fourth-largest core business centre then, after London, Tokyo and New York, and will merge with the adjacent coastal city centres to form a world-class bay area and important living room of Shenzhen.


Xiangmihu: International Exchange Facility and New Financial Street


Overlooking the Futian Central Business District from the ferris wheel at Xiangmihu.
Source: Dave Wong, Flikr.


Situated within the central Futian District, and home to the Shenzhen government, Xiangmihu also boasts some of Shenzhen’s most luxurious residential estate. Occupying a prime location with strategic importance, it is one of the last available plots of land to be developed in Shenzhen’s central city district. The plan is to develop Xiangmihu into a high quality ecologically sustainable area that retains local characteristics. It also entails seamlessly integrating the International Exchange Facility, the Xiangmihu Financial Street, culture and creativity industries, and living facilities.


The completed International Exchange Facility will cover a total area of 200,000 m2, of which a quarter has been set aside for the construction of a conference centre equipped to host high-level meetings to support government initiatives. A further 40,000 m2 has been earmarked for the Museum of China’s Reform and Opening Up, and 80,000 m2 reserved for an opera house.


In addition, the new Xiangmihu Financial Street, after expanding to include the Shenzhen Golf Course – which was on a lease that expired in 2015 – will occupy a total area of 2.7 km2, equivalent to about 70% of the Futian Central District. The Xiangmihu redevelopment project is therefore almost equivalent to the rebuilding of a new Shenzhen Central District in its scope. It is of immense significance, and helps make up for the lack of a large-scale facility that can accommodate international meetings and conferences in Shenzhen.


Guangming Science City: Supporting High-level Innovation in Shenzhen


Announced as a major and upcoming project to encourage high-level innovation in Shenzhen, the Guangming Science City spans over 21 km2 and comprises of five areas, namely a core area, a science and education area, an auxiliary facility area, an expansion area and the Guangming Feature Town. The Science City will focus on research in biology, information science, life science, material science and space science, and is designed to facilitate the upgrading of the city’s manufacturing industry toward high-end manufacturing and intelligent manufacturing. Other notable sites include one for the Sun Yat-sen University Shenzhen Campus, which will be built in the science and education area, and the Guangming Feature Town, which will comprise a forest area for leisure tourism.


The development of Guangming Science City will become an important engine of growth for the Guangzhou–Shenzhen–Hong Kong science corridor and is part of the city government’s action plan for speeding up the development of strategic and newly emerged industries.


Urban Living Rooms: The Future of Urbanisation


In its decades of rapid urbanisation, China has witnessed the erasure of the old, with new cities and districts constructed in its place. The commonly adopted model of urban development has resulted in a dilution of cities’ individuality, with hundreds of them sharing the same “face”. The Chinese central government recognised this problem in 2011, and responded in a policy document urging cities planners to avoid producing identical looking cities with similar features, and to concentrate on underscoring each city’s unique historical and cultural heritage.


With the World Bank projecting that by 2030, up to 70% of China’s population will be living in cities, it has become increasingly crucial for China’s cities to accelerate their progress in achieving efficient, inclusive and sustainable urbanisation. Policy makers have identified several areas of priority, including the reforming of urban design and development. For instance, city planners have recognised that they can make better use of existing urban land through flexible zoning with smaller plots and more mixed land use, as that will lead to denser and more efficient urban development. Therefore, in Shenzhen, we are observing a pattern wherein city planners are moving away from conventional practices that prioritise buildings over the natural landscape, or infrastructure over ecology.


Instead, the development plans of the six upcoming urban living rooms emphasise the integration of culture, innovation and ecology, to improve the liveability and sustainability of the city.

This interview was first published in Better Cities Jul 2019.


About the Writer


Serene Ang


Serene is a Student Intern at the Centre for Liveable Cities. She is currently studying for a Bachelor’s degree in Chinese Studies at Nanyang Technology University, with a focus on Contemporary China.