Di Zeng


Power of Narratives and Narratives of Power: Storytelling of, in, and for Placemaking in “Nantou Ancient City” in Shenzhen, China

Advised by Ann Forsyth

Urban planning and placemaking are in part implemented through storytelling. What are the dominant and demotic or popular narratives of, in, and for placemaking during the regeneration process of urban villages recently and over the past decades in Shenzhen? What are the embedded power relations among their narrators? There are two reasons these questions are important. First, the present and past historical, political, and cultural narratives have become useful tools for dominant narrators to manipulate placemaking, achieving their desired outcomes at high speed and excluding the “undesirable” groups. Second, those creating the demotic or informal stories have constructed an important part of the city’s development but are relatively powerless faced with the dominant ones. This thesis aims to challenge orthodox storytelling, providing a new perspective in examining how “culture” acts as an agent in urban regeneration that draws more attention to bottom-up narratives told by the less empowered group.

            In making this sense, the thesis examines the case of “Nantou Ancient City,” where the conception of “culture” has been introduced into the regeneration strategy of the urban village. It first articulates the historic and demotic narratives ranging from ancient times to the recent past to reveal what made this place’s identity before regeneration, which is essential to understanding present interventions. In the next step, it analyzes how the central political will, nostalgia and patriotic emotions, middle-class values, and a closed benefit coalition are embedded in the rhetoric of planning strategies and actions. Finally, the thesis finds out that the “Nantou Ancient City” is packed by the new branded identity of an internet-famous place for tourism and consumption and the “future heritage” conception, which has served the spatial cleansing of the blue-collar migrants while attracting the rising creative class.

side-by-side view of narrow streets in Shenzhen, China.  Leftmost is crowded with people with a banner, a neon sign, and new building facades and open to the sky.  Right side shows a dark street with few people, bins and bicycles at the edges, and overhanging pipes, cables, and walkways. Storefronts are covered by security gates.
“Front Region” vs “Back Region” in Nantou, 2021

Flow chart diagram showing Narratives in the Context of Placemaking.
Narratives in the Context of Placemaking

Two street maps showing the changes in placement and diversity of cuisine styles between 2018 and 2021.
The Change of Edible Identities after Regeneration

Flow chart exploring links between government, planners, property owners, real estate developers and the effects on environment, rents, and policy.
The Benefit Coalition in the Regeneration

Chart showing three word clouds for three periods between 2015-2021. The most common word in the first word cloud is “Zhongshan Park,” in the second is “City,” and in the third is “History.”
The Change of Keyword Frequency in Weibo Posts that Mentioned “Nantou Ancient City” (2015-2021)