Shenzhen Exhibition: Landgrab City
Joseph Grima, Jeffrey Johnson, José Esparza
December 2009 - January 2010
2009 SZ/HK Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture
Landgrab City is an installation commissioned by the Shenzhen/Hong Kong Biennale of Architecture/Urbanism and located on Shenzhenwan Avenue (Nanshan), a busy shopping district in the city of Shenzhen. Conceived as an experimental investigation into the full extent of Shenzhen's spatial footprint, the installation is comprised of two parts: an aerial photograph of one of the city's densest areas, home to approximately 4.5m people, and a plot of cultivated land divided into small lots. This land is a representation, at the same scale as the city itself, of the amount of territory necessary to provide the food consumed by the inhabitants of the portion of city sampled in the map, projected to 2027 (the year China is expected to overtake the US as the world's leading economy). Each lot represents the extent of a single food group's footprint: vegetables, cereals, fruit, pasture (for livestock), and so on.
In reality, of course, these agricultural territories are not actually clustered around Shenzhen, as in the installation, but scattered across China and contiguous regions. As China's political and economic influence grows in range and complexity, increasing proportions of these territories of agricultural production have, in fact, migrated to far-flung regions of the planet, typically in Africa, Latin America or Eastern Europe.
As is the case with many other regions of the world that urbanised rapidly in recent decades (such as the four Asian Tigers, the city-states in the Persian Gulf and even certain portions of northern Africa), one of the greatest threats to future stability and growth is perceived as the volatility in food prices on the international market. In response, agricultural land – as opposed to the food produced on that land – has itself become the target of acquisitions, leading, in some cases, to a situation in which nations have effectively purchased substantial tracts of agricultural territories in other (generally less wealthy) countries. This phenomenon is frequently criticized as a post-colonial land grab that enslaves vast agricultural territories of the planet to distant, wealthier urban enclaves.
The countryside is a vital but frequently overlooked category in the contemporary discourse around spatial policy, and its role with respect to the future of urbanism is more often than not neglected. Landgrab City is an attempt to visually represent the broader spatial identity of the 21st century metropolis; it proposes a new spatial definition of the city and thereby a more complex understanding of urbanism, one that no longer considers city limits as the boundary of its remit, but instead looks beyond – even across international borders – to the spatial, social, economic and political implications of the planet's rapid urbanization.