Shenjing He: The Creative Spatial Fix: Making Creative Cities in China

by Wangke Wu, second-year DUSP student and STL Fellow

On Wednesday, April 5, 2017, Shenjing He, associate professor in Department of Urban Planning and Design at The University of Hong Kong, delivered her China Talk Series lecture on the definition, evolution, composition, implementation, and future development of the idea of the creative city. Prof. He spoke to an audience of approximately 30 students, faculty, professional practitioners, and guests.

Prof. He began her talk by defining “spatial fix” and reviewing the implementation of spatial fix when constructing creative cities in China. The idea of the spatial fix was put forward by David Harvey in his book The Limits to Capital in 1982, and adopted worldwide afterward. Therefore, the creative city was a travelling idea adopted in China due to the world city system and neoliberal urban policies. Since 2000, there is a trend of multi-scalar entrepreneurial governments promoting creative and cultural industries to cope with post-industrialization development in China. However, different cities have their own emphases. Prof. He compared between Shanghai and Shenzhen. The Shanghai government emphasizes commodifying cultural products to increase land revenue, while the Shenzhen government is more focused on rebuilding economic competitiveness and rebranding the city. Prof. He thinks that the reason behind the development of creative and cultural industries is a combination of neoliberal urban policies and a crisis management strategy in China, where local government used it as a tool to continue property-led redevelopment and solve land deficit.

After the theoretical discussion, Prof. He turned to her two case studies. Since the early 2000s, Shanghai and Shenzhen, two economic powerhouses in China, have launched ambitious ‘creative city making’ projects involving innovative entrepreneurial policies and various spatialized capital accumulation beyond the formulaic repertoire imported from the west. After that, Prof. He shared details about the construction of creative cities with the example of Tianzifang in Shanghai and Dafen Village in Shenzhen. Drawing on case studies in Shanghai and Shenzhen, along with the nationwide creative city campaign, Prof. He scrutinized the creative spatial fix of China in two dimensions: creative and flexible governing polities are in place to cope with crisis of capital accumulation; creativity is used as a neoliberal alibi to inaugurate a movement of revealing the build environment.

Prof. He concluded that creative city making is essentially a means of crisis management building upon the land interest-centered accumulation regime in the era of deindustrialization, in which creativity has been used as a neoliberal alibi to inaugurate movements of revitalizing the built environment, while creative and flexible governing policies are in place to push for spatialized capital accumulation.

The talk was followed by a lively question-and-answer session with the audience, which asked whether the idea of spatial fix could be used in other areas, details about combining spatial fix with entrepreneurship, and implementation of spatial fix in Shenzhen.

Shenjing He is Associate Professor in the Department of Urban Planning and Design at The University of Hong Kong. She is the Chinese editor of Urban Studies (SAGE), and a member of the international editorial advisory board of Journal of Urban Affairs (Wiley Blackwell), Geography Compass (Wiley Blackwell), International Planning Studies (Routledge), and Area Development and Policy (Taylor and Francis). Shenjing’s primary research interests focus on urban redevelopment/ gentrification, housing differentiation and socio-spatial inequality, rural-urban migration and urban poverty. She has published more than seventy journal articles and book chapters in English and Chinese. She is the co-author of “Urban Poverty in China” (Edward Elgar, 2010), co-editor of “Locating Right to the City in the Global South” (Routledge, 2013), “Urban living: Mobility, Sociability, and Wellbeing” (Springer, 2016), and “Changing China: Migration, Communities and Governance in Cities” (Routledge, 2016). She is also the lead guest editor of several special issues for Environment and Planning A (2012), Urban Studies (2015), Eurasian Geography and Economics (2015), and Urban Geography (2016). Shenjing was listed by Elsevier as one of the most cited researchers in mainland China (social sciences), for three consecutive years (2015-2017).