Land is becoming the scarcest resource in China’s pre-eminent tech capital of Shenzhen, where the current landmass of 1,990 square kilometers under its jurisdiction is simply not enough to further unleash the potential of a city economy – 2.42 trillion yuan (US$341.5 billion) in 2018 – that is already among Asia’s top five.

Thus, like its neighbor Hong Kong, Shenzhen has been deploying an army of bulldozers and barges to create plots from the sea and in the meantime scrapping the height limit for skyscrapers springing up across the city.

Shenzhen made headlines earlier this month for an urban renewal project in its densely built-up Luohu district, where dilapidated tenement blocks and walk-ups in an “urban village” there would be torn down to make space for a cluster of 21 53-80-storey residential towers plus commercial and amenity facilities set to top out in three years.

The new development of skyscrapers, with a plot ratio of 11 and the highest roof altitude of almost 300 meters, will dwarf the tallest residential building in use in the city, a 67-storey, 239-meter condo block.

Tenement blocks in Shenzhen’s Luohu district are being torn down for redevelopments.

The backdrop is that although China is now home to the majority of the world’s super-tall towers, rarely do residential buildings there exceed a height of 100 meters – or 33 storeys – due to fire safety, livability and cost considerations.

But Shenzhen is treading the old path of Hong Kong by building ever taller towers on ever smaller plots so that developers can stack more homes on top of one another to recoup their hefty investments, resulting in land resumption costs and the need to resettle affected residents during redevelopment.

Shenzhen’s total developable area is merely a fraction of that of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Therefore, while other top-tier cities can expand their conurbation, Shenzhen can only go upward.

The 118-storey, 600-meter Ping’an Financial Center in Shenzhen is currently the second-tallest in China and the fourth-tallest worldwide, after Burj Khalifa in Dubai, Shanghai Tower and Abraj Al-Bait Clock Tower in Mecca. Ping’an is followed by 45 other skyscrapers of at least 200 meters tall. A 668-meter mixed-use tower is also nearing completion in Longgang district, and more super-talls have been planned in Luohu as the district bordering Hong Kong aims to rebuild much of its old neighborhoods.

Shenzhen now boosts a growing number of ever higher skyscrapers.
Office and residential towers in Shenzhen are illuminated at dusk.

To address the worsening land shortage, Shenzhen’s municipal government has already loosened height and plot ratio limits for new developments to allow more buildings – not just office towers but also residential blocks – to pierce the skies and accommodate more companies and residents. There are literally no sizeable vacant plots in downtown or along Shenzhen’s city limits.

Shenzhen newspapers also reported that the plot ratio of 90% of residential developments will be over 3, meaning low-density estates like townhouses and villas in the city will gain more value.

Lured by its vibrant tech scene as home to Tencent, Huawei, DJI, ZTE, etc, fresh graduates and start-up entrepreneurs across China are still making a beeline for the city of 16 million, which saw an inflow of half a million people in 2018, according to the Shenzhen Daily.

But prepare yourself for this kind of living environment if you join the crowds in Shenzhen, where you may need to squeeze yourself into a shoebox apartment some 200 meters up in the air, something that Hongkongers are no stranger to.

A “Hong Kong-style,” high-density public rental housing estate in Shenzhen. Photos: Asia Times

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