Mega City One, Shenzhen and The Pearl River Delta

In the late 1980s an ex colleague introduced me to the drawings of the dystopian comic2000 AD , its main protagonist Judge Dredd and the world of Mega City One. This “Ballardian” creation revealed a bleak futuristic urban landscape coupled the psychological effects of technological, social and environmental degradation following a fictional atomic war in 2070.

Mega City One, the home of the stony-faced protagonist, occupies the entire Eastern Seaboard of North America. It is not a city conurbation as we understand it, but a replacement of the nation states obliterated by the atomic war.

Modern life and the human psyche are warped into an urban nightmare hitherto unexplored by the comic book genre. Notions of moral and social etiquette are abandoned, as the Mega City One environment gives way to a hunter gatherer culture where the future humans gather together in clans, claim food sources from where they can and greet strangers with extreme violence.

Mega City One has a population of 800 million, the citizens living in gigantic 1,000-storey mega blocks , home to 60,000 occupants – a self contained Tower of Babel. Amongst the mega blocks are smaller 500- and 100-storey blocks, their proximity to each other means daylight does not reach the lowest and poorest levels of “City Bottom”, which resides in permanent darkness.

The mega towers isolate the occupants from the world outside by default creating a closed and disconnected environment where occupants stay indoors permanently, losing sense of time and the restrictions of society.

Is the fiction of the Mega City turning into fact in the Pearl River Delta?

Shenzhen and its delta neighbours, under the directive of the Chinese Government, are linking to create an urban area of 60,000 square kilometres with an unofficial population of 80 million people and a GDP of more than RMB 15 trillion.

It no longer makes sense to discuss Shenzhen in isolation. The long-gone 1970s fishing village was irrevocably set along a new path when Deng Xiaoping named it from the decks of the Shenzhen- (Shekou)-based cruise ship Minghua (Spirit of China) a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) and a test bed of structured capitalism for the Guandong Province.

Shenzhen has seen some of the most rapid urban expansion in human history. In a little more than 30 years, it has become the pulse of the Chinese economy, embodying China’s emergence as a global power. The factories, the incredible pace and scale of development, and its 10 million inhabitants account for nearly one-tenth of the entire country’s economy. Since 1980 Shenzhen’s urbanisation rate increased from 28% to 85%, making it one of the most densely urbanised regions in China . It is one of China’s most modern and ‘Singaporean’ urban regions in terms of its greening and gardening ambitions.

Shenzhen sits at the epicentre – and is perhaps the fulcrum – of the government-backed strategic infrastructure measures of tunnels, bridges and fast-speed rail that will link it and its Pearl River Delta (PRD) neighbours together.

In 2008 the absolute process of merging Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Foshan, Dongguan, Huizhou, Zhuhai, Zhongshan, Zhaoqing and Jiangmen began, and when finally coupled with Hong Kong and Macau they will create the world’s first Mega City. The traditional city dividing lines in time will become economically and socially blurred as the $2 trillion infrastructure virus spreads through the nervous system of the existing cities, fusing them together, and eliminating their idiosyncrasies and individual characters in the process. Foshan, a city founded in 628 AD, will become subsumed in a Keynesian spirit for greater good by tech manufacturing industries, petrochemical installations and Dongguan’s tens of thousands of sex industry workers.

The dollar value placed on connectivity will create a one-hour living zone encompassing most of the PRD cities within the three-hour economic sphere of the PRD Mega City.

The Mega City One of Judge Dredd eschewed idealistic cooperation between its monster tower blocks, so how will the conjoined cities of the PRD cope with economic and cultural integration once their Berlin Walls are – concrete panel by concrete panel – craned away to the recycling depot to create more road construction aggregate?

The current cities, despite the Little Shop of Horrors swelling tendril-like infrastructure, are in direct competition with one another. Hong Kong consistently tries to get the jump on Shenzhen and similarly Shenzhen on Guangzhou et cetera. Witness the new Shenzhen district of Qianhai – a new “offshore” Renminbi financial district that will swallow whole the economic muscle that Hong Kong has wielded as Asia’s ‘World City face’ since Max Bygraves (the song and dance man of British Imperialism) held court in Central’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel in the 1960s.

Hong Kong, constrained by its extraordinary topography, has literally no place to go save across the Shenzhen Bay border controls to the mainland. By necessity Hong Kong companies have been at the forefront of investment in the PRD, and as the cement of city integration hardens, cross border investment will undoubtedly increase. Qianhai provides the expansion space that the bull industries of Hong Kong require.

The big question is not what Shenzhen looks like today, but how will the Mega City of the Pearl River Delta look in 20 years time and what role will it play nationally and globally?

By 2030 the PRD statistics are mind-blowing:
A megacity of 80 million people
Land area of 60,000 square kilometres
GDP of RMB 15 trillion
Urbanisation index of 90 per cent

I have always liked the name BENELUX – the amalgamation of names applied to the neighbouring Midwestern European countries of Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg, and a name first used to signify their cross border customs agreement of 1944. It is now used in a more general way to refer to the geographic, economic and cultural grouping of the three countries.

Perhaps the current cities of the PRD will take the Judge’s moniker and be known simply as Mega City One as the amalgamation of the current names is a torture for the collective noun of Alan Turing-type puzzle geeks.

Stephen Pimbley, September 18 2014


Mega-City One © 2014 Rebellion® A/S. All rights reserved. Used with permission of the copyright holder.