We visited Nantou on the last leg of our 2016 week-long field trip to Shenzhen on a hot, humid day. In contrast to the pulsating lanes of Baishouzhou and its unapologetic messiness, where we had spent relatively more time, Nantou appeared quaint and well suited to touristic exploration. After all, the settlement had once been a walled city of considerable political importance, and the remnants of that history were strewn across the village in the form of arched gateways, temples and sacred niches. My most vivid memory is that of an active main street full of the myriad tastes of China punctuated by a select number of restored (or being restored) buildings. This, in stark contrast to Hubei, a true blue urban village dating back to the 15th century that faces redevelopment.
This year, Nantou was the venue of the UABB, the bi-city biennale of Urbanism/Architecture that brings together artwork related to the urban experiences of Hong Kong and Shenzhen. Walking towards the South Gate of Nantou, we recognized familiar landmarks – the ancestor hall, the ornate gate itself, the garden and its sculptures. And further in, the smaller gate that enters the settlement itself.
Once we stepped inside, we realized how transformed the space was from what it used to be. The street before us, full of vendors and teeming with life, was now a subdued cleaned-up version of itself. New open spaces had been carved out and designed with great taste, but ‘no climbing’, ‘no touching’ signs all over the street furniture in these made us wonder what the village residents were thinking about the redesign interventions. At the very least, these spaces were being used in many ways and by different kinds of people. Newspapers were being read here, mothers and children were catching the winter sun and old women were resting as well. Further in, we found another lovely large open space – a new basketball court, temporarily in disuse. Presumably it will be resurrected and used as it should once the UABB is over.
Shaun Teo, whose PhD research is looking at the UABB’s transformative impacts, pointed out many more interventions in a very interesting tour he conducted that afternoon. He showed us some of the redesigned shops in the village, which looked beautiful but to my eyes were a clear push towards gentrification. Shaun showed us two interventions that emerged from a competition: 1- An attempt at entrepreneurship by a migrant renter who was running a cafe at the UABB in partnership with one of the organizers, and 2- A young urban designer’s redesign of a ground floor shop into the Nantou Living Room, his living space that doubles up into a space for village residents to meet and interact. Already, fresh interventions are spinning off of these. The entrepreneur is gathering capital to set up shop on a more permanent basis and the urban designer is taking baby steps forward with the landscaping of a “secret garden” tucked away behind his alley.
What does an event like the UABB signify to the residents of a neighborhood like Nantou? It is obvious that many have been displaced to make the event possible. Vendors, for sure, have been asked to leave and even some factories in order to get clear floor space for the exhibition halls. Most likely, the UABB has sped up the process of gentrification and the pricing out of current renters, in a location where rents are already quite high. This might mean higher densities and I’m unsure how Shenzhen authorities will balance the heritage value of Nantou will the unfolding densification processes.
On the positive side, the redesigned public spaces and wall art have added value too. From what I heard, the design of the venue was not exactly a consultative process, nor have the venues of previous editions of the UABB retained their look and feel after the event. Perhaps Nantou will reclaim its spaces back and make of them what they want to. Given that Shenzhen is currently working on the redevelopment of urban villages, a gentrified Nantou with a smattering of resident-friendly spaces and interventions is perhaps a best case scenario!
We visited the Dastkar Nature Bazar on Saturday. It’s been my favorite place for pre-Diwali shopping in Delhi, followed by the Blind School mela. Blind School’s advantage always has been its fixed location. You know where to go and what to expect each year. Dastkar, on the other hand, keeps moving around and it’s not always convenient to get to. We skipped last year because I couldn’t get to Pragati Maidan.
This time though, the exhibition has moved to the Kissan Haat in Andheria Mod, near Chhatarpur Metro Station. Therefore, on Saturday morning, six of us, all women and all geared up to shop, hopped on at Huda City Centre to troop to the Dastkar Nature Bazar.
It didn’t disappoint. In fact, I thought this was a nice home for the exhibition and was delighted when someone mentioned that Dastkar had signed a 15 year lease for this space. I see no official announcement or press item to this effect though. I looked up to research what the Kissan Haat was originally built for. I always thought there was a mandi here, or some sort of direct selling farm produce type of establishment was going to be set up here. Whenever I drove by, I saw the signs and looked forward to such an announcement. Fresh produce markets would do so well in South Delhi!
But today, I found online that the government had failed to start this and finally decided, sometime during the Commonwealth Games preparation, to set this up as another Dilli Haat, replete with food stalls and crafts outlets. I suppose that is what they achieve by handing the space over to Dastkar. I don’t know what Dastkar plans. I heard there will be 4 exhibitions a year instead of an annual one.
For those of you who haven’t yet gone, do go! If not to buy, to just see. If you love handmade, hand crafted, hand loom; if you love original work and design; if you value authenticity; you will be happy here. Plus you have the satisfaction of buying directly from craftspeople of from organizations that work directly with them. I interacted with founder Laila Tyabji last year at the India Urban Conference at Mysore and was impressed with the depth of her knowledge of crafts-based livelihoods and her advise to urban practitioners on how to design and plan for such communities and how to integrate them into the economy. Here’s a link to a post wrote about her when she got the Padma Shri.
It’s on till November 9th. For pics etc, do check out the Dastkar Facebook page. Happy shopping!