Sheng Zhong recently defended her PhD dissertation at UBC School of Community and Regional Planning.  Last year at the Association of American Geographers annual conference, she gave us a little preview of her research results on cultural production sites in Shanghai, focusing on one of the seventy government-designated sites, M50 on Suzhou Creek. She also published this case study in the 2009 issue of Critical Planning (Vol 16): From Fabrics to Fine Arts: Urban Restructuring and Formation of an Art District in Shanghai. Her research consisted of extensive interviews, surveys and site visits of most of these former industrial sites now destined as high-end cultural centers. The concept of the creative class might be controversial here, but Sheng’s research shows the Chinese government is jumping on the bandwagon that supposedly leads to economic growth and development, as suggested by Richard Florida.

In Sheng’s doctoral defense, she contrasted two cultural production sites, one of which developed on its own, as artists found the low-rent buildings vacated by industries that had relocated to the suburbs. The second was designated by the government and targeted for redevelopment. The contrast between the two was very interesting: the first had grown illegally for some time as artists occupied the various buildings on the site, then over a decade gentrified to the point where rents are almost at the upper limit of affordability for small-scale production. The second site was initially designed with high-end stores and upscale landscape architecture targeted to foreign tourists. It is under-used (the rents are too high and there may not be enough demand for the location) and the artwork sold there is unaffordable to the Chinese population.

Dr. Zhong will be starting a post-doctoral position at the National University of Singapore, where she will continue her research on urban redevelopment and the policies that impact growth and change in Chinese cities.

Update: As of February 2012, Sheng will be a lecturer at the brand new Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University in Suzhou, a joint effort of China’s Xi’an Jiaotong University and the UK’s Liverpool University.

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