Reservoir Urbanism in Shenzhen

Department: Landscape Architecture
Research Centre: Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities Initiative
Active Dates: September 2019 - ongoing
Principal Investigator: Xiaoxuan Lu

Known as the “instant city”, Shenzhen has grown from Bao’an County of 300,000 people to a burgeoning metropolis of over 20 million in four decades, since it was established as the Special Economic Zone in 1980. One of the cradles of China’s rapid economic expansion and global reintegration, Shenzhen also spearheaded a revolutionary dynamic in the country’s urban development. While rapid urbanization has increased incomes and improved livelihoods, it also has had significant environmental impacts. The conversion of vegetated surfaces to urban areas alters the exchange of heat, water, aerosols, and momentum between the land surface and overlying atmosphere.

In addition, the city’s rocketing population growth and explosive construction boom have resulted in a unique urban form. Among the topics on Shenzhen’s urban morphology, the “urban village” is perhaps the most widely discussed. However, the city’s landscape counterpart — its “urban waters” remains largely unknown. There are 189 government-managed reservoirs scattered throughout Shenzhen’s territory interconnected with a complex network of 310 streams and rivers. While most of the reservoirs are located in the city’s periphery, some can be found in the middle of built-up areas. These urban reservoirs constitute a largely unknown, but critical element of the city’s urban framework, an arterial infrastructure that has been quietly sustaining and nourishing the “Shenzhen miracle.”

Set on the eastern side of the Pearl River Delta (PRD), one of the world’s most extensive and intricate estuaries, the “Shenzhen miracle” is a story of how naturally occurring biophysical processes modified by a myriad of “engineering” interventions result in an interdependent landscape of new physical realities, cultural expressions and economic dynamics. By examining the ever-changing roles that Shenzhen’s reservoirs play in guiding the city’s occupation, use and urbanization, this project interweaves the story of Shenzhen’s engineered landscape with that of the city itself. Moreover, drawing on the approach of forward-thinking landscape architects who work to re-envision the relationships between landscape, infrastructure and urbanism, this project sheds light on the tremendous opportunities that Shenzhen’s urban reservoirs provide to mitigate undesirable results of rapid urbanization, and contribute to building up the environmental and social resilience of this high-density city.

Enlarge Photo: 01_Minzhi Reservoir, Shenzhen © Xiaoxuan LuEnlarge Photo: 02_Comparing three water transfer projects in the region: (i) Pearl River Delta Water Resources Allocation Project; (ii) Dongjiang-Shenzhen Water Supply Project; (iii) Eastern Region Water Supply Project © Xiaoxuan Lu