Landgrab City – farm in urban square in Shenzhen, China
Photo by Dezeen.
By Joseph Grima, Jeffrey Johnson, José Esparza
December 2009 – January 2010
2009 Shenzhen/Hong Kong Biennale of Architecture/Urbanism
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.
Photo by Dezeen.
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.
Harvesting crops at Landgrab City.
After several months, the eggplants, chilies, corns and other crops in “LandGrab City” are already ripe. At 3pm, Dec 20, the first round of “happy garden” harvesting started in the Nanshan sub-venue so that citizens can be more involved in the Biennale.
Under the instruction of the staff of the Biennale, parents along with their children participated in the harvesting. In addition to bringing them the family fun that had been absent for a long time, this activity also helped the children to experience the life of vegetable farmers. After the harvesting, the staff there also asked questions to the participators. Every correct answer was awarded with a pack of fresh and pollution-free “happy vegetables” that can be brought home for a healthy dish.
LandGrab City: A Geography of Spatial Prostheses
Joseph Grima and Jeffrey Johnson with Jose Esparaza
“LandGrab City” is a joint project by Joseph Grima, a New York based architect, writer, researcher and director of the Storefront for Art and Architecture, and Jeffrey Johnson, founding director of China Lab, an experimental research unit at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation of Columbia University.
Both Grima and Johnson have extensive research experience within the Chinese context. Their installation “Landgrab City” represents the Shenzhen-Hong Kong experience through a “micro-farm” in which the city is regrouped to be placed with the territories around the world that deed it. It is a common misconception that the contemporary city is becoming increasingly disconnected from the countryside. In some case it is becoming more rigidly connected, albeit to rural areas in remote regions on distant continents. “Landgrab City” proposes an examination of these cities as complex, multinational territorial systems no longer confined by their physical and administrative city limits. (Wei Wei Shannon)
Video showing the Langrab project.