NOTE: This article has been submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for their consideration to be published as an opinion piece.
As I walk around Shenzhen, I often see the elevated highways and expressways that dot the landscape, indicating the rapid rate of development that has underpinned Shenzhen’s success. The enormous blocks of concrete and metal stand stark against the green forests and parks and the blues of the Pearl River Delta.
However, there are also incidents of roads that remain untouched for years around the city. No work has been done, with scaffolding slowly rusting under around these abandoned projects. One example that I see on a regular basis is Meikou 2nd Road. It appears to have started its construction, but the access roads from Nantou Expressway have never finished. The elevated roads and tall struts remain high in the sky as indicators of a project stalled.
With that in mind, it made me wonder about what could be done with these things. The sheer volume of concrete and metal that is used for elevated roads, railway lines, subways and pathways provides a unique palatte for societal art.
That gave me an idea. With some of these struts already crawling with vines, I felt that these blank urban canvases would be a wonderful opportunity for the largest public art competition in the world. There must be millions of square metres of concrete and metal for people to paint on, turning dull grey and boring white into a cavalcade of colors that speak to what Shenzhen really is.
If a broad approach was taken to this, every district and sub-district would be able to open up different areas to different themes. A perfect example would be all the bridges leading to Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport. It would be fantastic to see them painted in a consistent color and theme, rather than the stark grey that currently exists.
On a similar note, the spaghetti junctions of the Bulong-Nanping expressways north of the Tanglang mountain passways would make for an intriguing artwork for an enterprising group of artists. While few would ever appreciate it, the opportunity to properly protect these roadways would be amazing.
Another benefit is that it would truly incorporate the entire community. Roads and paths near local schools could include primary school designs, much like the mural at Bao’an Primary School. Universities could show off their abilities while local employers would be able to satisfy their social values by introducing community art projects. Different areas would develop different themes, while border bridges could be the result of cross-district collaboration.
The diverse collection of artworks would make for one of the most long-term art projects in the country. I would suspect that such a project would take anywhere from 15 to 20 years to complete, with the maintenance requiring plenty of staff and new art being introduced every year.
What are your thoughts about such a unique project?