Author Archives: Lucas

Daoshan Dude

English Translation of lyrics from Daoshan Dude, by Wu Tiao Ren

Daoshan dude, Why are you wearing broken shoes?
Daoshan dude, Why don’t you have your hair cut?
Daoshan dude, Why are you still riding the worn out bike?
You are cocky. You are cocky. You are cocky.

It’s going to rain.
My mum is waiting for me to have supper.
But what can I do?
I’m in a watch house.
My mum said “come home and eat”
It’s all my fault
I am cocky.
You are cocky.

Back in the Delta

I’ve returned to Guangzhou for the second time. This time working towards an exhibition called Sea Pearl White Cloud at Observation Society, alongside Trevor Yeung.

Between trips to Guangzhou, I’ve been working with John Causley, a graphic designer from Big Fag Press. We’ve been using map-making as a way of trying to understand the problem (or is it?) of sea level rise, and its future impact on the Pearl River Delta.

Rummaging around, we found this great little website, which crunches topographic data and allows you to visualise rising sea level rises as an overlay on top of google maps. You can toggle the amount of rise in metres. For example, here’s Guangzhou with a one metre rise:

guangzhou sea level rise visualisation

John set to work trying to extract the base map from the flood overlay, so that we might have something to play with for making a print. Some of what he was able to do was elegant (switching off various bits of data in google maps in order to capture the mapping info) and some involved more brute force (doing a screenshot of the flood map layer and then photoshopping out irrelevant info).

Here’s where we got to:

guangzhou base map
[Pearl River Delta base map]

guangzhou map one metre sea level rise flood scenario
[Base map with 1 metre sea level rise scenario overlay]

When we printed these maps out as good quality inkjet drafts back in Australia, we were struck by a few issues:

The map certainly has a dramatic effect. One metre of sea level rise seems to obliterate much of the city. I was thinking that it might be interesting to have these maps printed to use as a point of discussion with Guangzhou folks.

However, it would be good to be able to zoom in closer. Someone living in Haizhu district, for example, might want to know what is going to happen in their local neighbourhood. When we tried the zoom, focusing on Haizhu, this is what emerged:

haizhu base map
[Haizhu base map]

haizhu 1m sea level rise scenario
[Haizhu base map with 1 metre sea level rise scenario overlay]

This looks good – but we are acutely aware that this data is not really “zoomable” to this extent. At this level of enlargement, photoshop begins to invent information. Is this a problem?

I talked to Clive Schofield, a friend from University of Wollongong who is a “bit of an expert” on geography and politics. What I really wanted to know was, how long will it take for the 1metre sea level rise scenario to play out? When could Guangzhou expect to see this happen?

Clive warned me that the sea level rise maps we’ve been making are based on a the simplistic “bathtub modelling” system, which doesn’t take into account a whole range of factors. In a follow-up email, Clive writes:

I am afraid that what you are asking for doesn’t really exist per se…It is a fiendishly difficult and complex business to try to disentangle causes of sea level rise and particularly to distinguish what proportion of sea level rise is attributable to a particular factor.

His email continues:

Not only do bathtub modelling approaches generally not take into account regional variations in sea level but they also don’t accommodate how particular coast and coastal ecosystems interact with sea level. Such approaches generally treat coasts as static landforms, therefore imagining that as sea level rises it simply ‘marches up the contours’. While that might arguably be true for rocky coastlines it is a flawed approach for other coastlines including the low-lying generally soft sediment ones you are considering. It is important to realise that not only is sea level rise likely to be highly uneven spatially, but that its impacts on diverse coastal environments will be similarly varied.

Clive suggested that one of the factors affecting the Pearl River Delta might be that if there is damming of the water further upstream, then the delivery of sediments to the delta which traditionally built up the land won’t be happening. In this case, independent of any sea-level rise, the delta lands may be in fact subsiding. This paper seems to support that idea.

It’s all a bit overwhelming. Even though I’ve learned a fair bit in the last few weeks about all this stuff, not-knowing seems to be the main thing here. It makes me feel … how? Dissatisfied? A bit sick in the stomach, to be honest.

* * *

Postscript – I sent this post to The Abovementioned Clive. In his reply, he suggested that I could try to be a bit more upbeat about all of this. He writes:

The lesson from certain coastal ecosystems is that they are able to autonomously adapt to changing sea levels… if we allow them to. That is where management of coastal land and sea scapes becomes crucial.

The Dongguan Moon

The Dongguan moon is like a tiny boat
Carrying a flock of affectionate swordsmen
Wandering about across the gentle river

This haiku-ish text is from a very short song by Wu Tiao Ren, a Guangzhou band. With any luck, today I’ll get to meet the band and talk about a possible collaboration.

wu tiao ren

Guangzhou’s watery future

Yesterday at Observation Society, I was describing the Waterways of the Illawarra project to Anthony, Trevor and Hanting. At home, the seepage from the escarpment is a major part of the “character” of the region. It’s what creates the more than 50 creeks which make their way through the landscape into the sea.

It wasn’t something I had considered before I arrived, but a major part of the “character” of Guangzhou and the Guangdong region is the Pearl River Delta. In the delta, waterways flow in a crisscrossing matrix wherever you find yourself. Maps of the delta are beautiful and confounding – they don’t look like “normal” rivers which have a clear directionality:

pearl river delta

This map also shows the massive urban development in the Pearl River Delta over the last 30 years.

So – one thing that’s been haunting me recently is the future rise of sea levels. In the Illawarra, it seems clear that sea level rises will immediately affect the areas surrounding creeks, since these are the lowest parts of the landscape. Like in the big floods of 1998 (when the extra water came from the sky), houses with creeks running through their yards will have to think about how to protect themselves from serious land erosion and property damage.

Here’s a map I saw of Brisbane a few years ago, where the future sea level rise totally transforms the city’s useable spaces:

brisbane sea level rise
This is the first image I saw which showed future projections of the impact of sea level rises on low-lying cities, and I imagine we’ll be seeing these maps with ever more frequency now.

So what about Guangzhou?

Anthony, Trevor and Hanting didn’t know what the future prospects of the city will be. So I googled it.

Uh oh. Of all the cities in the entire world, Guangzhou is listed at number one. The most likely to be caused massive damage due to sea level rises:

In terms of the overall cost of damage, the cities at the greatest risk are: 1) Guangzhou, 2) Miami, 3) New York, 4) New Orleans, 5) Mumbai, 6) Nagoya, 7) Tampa, 8) Boston, 9) Shenzen, and 10) Osaka. The top four cities alone account for 43% of the forecast total global losses.

OK. So, what can be done about this?

In a rudimentary search, I couldn’t find much specific about Guangzhou’s plan for the future of sea level rises, but hopefully something will turn up. Meantime, here’s some research from 13 years ago: a paper called “Coastal Inundation due to Sea Level Rise in the Pearl River Delta, China” in a journal called Natural Hazards, by geographers ZHENGUO HUANG, YONGQIANG ZONG, and WEIQIANG ZHANG, from 2003. The authors mention 193 flooding events in the last 40 years (that’s about 5 per year!) and make some calculations based on the idea of a 30cm rise by 2030. Their conclusion:

The potential rise in sea level during the 21st century will pose a severe threat to the communities in the deltaic area. In order for the current and future investments and communities to be protected from potential threat of marine inundation, preventive policies need to be formulated and implemented as soon as possible.

And here’s something from 2005, where plans were mooted to upgrade the Pearl River Delta’s flood defences (no mention of climate change though in that article).

Here’s a more recent article which describes the threat to GZ from Climate Change, but without any mention of what measures could be taken to mitigate it.

This article seems to tackle the heart of the matter, and it’s more recent (2013): “A Review of Assessment and Adaptation Strategy to Climate Change Impacts on the Coastal Areas in South China“. The strategies discussed include:

  • improving the monitoring and early warning systems;
  • fortifying coastal protection engineering;
  • working on ecological restoration to buffer the effects of climate change on biodiversity;
  • and strengthening salt tide prevention to ensure the water resource security.

This last factor was one I hadn’t considered. With rising sea levels, salty water will start to infiltrate areas where fresh water had been drawn for drinking.

This jaunty piece discusses the threat to Guangzhou in connection with China’s apparent turnabout on Climate Change policy.

Even though these articles present some practical ideas, they still seems to be operating at the level of generalised recommendations.

Surely work is already underway? Surely?

It seems to me that the options for adapting to the future for GZ are the following:

  • build defenses against flood events (sea walls? dykes? will these work in the future??);
  • smarten up evacuation plans (how do you evacuate a city with more than 15 million people?);
  • begin radically re-designing the city with higher water levels in mind (what, like lift it up on stilts? what other ideas are there?);
  • start relocating the city to higher ground based on future sea level projections (abandon current Guangzhou and move it inland??);
  • Stop burning coal and oil.

Similar ideas (and some nice maps) are generated in this project which was presented in the 2011 Shenzhen and Hong Kong Bi-City Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism.

What have I not considered here?

Guangzhou Mobility Fetish

guangzhou bike umbrella

I’ve been noticing these bike umbrellas around Guangzhou. They’re round on the front and long in the back, kind of the mullet of rain deflection. The long tail is so your passenger is also kept dry – and having a passenger on the back of your bike is pretty much the norm here.

Today, as we went around the city, Hanting, Trevor and I kept our eyes out for these umbrellas. I almost bought one (a pink one with raindrops pattern!) – it was only 45 yuan – but the place didn’t have the bracket that you need to fix them to your bike.

The brackets used to connect them to the bikes are gorgeous make-do pieces of vernacular design in their own right. Like the sticky tape used to strap the cushion padding onto the seat in the image above, the key here is to make it work (not to make it “pretty”).

Here’s a typical one –

bike umbrella mount

The bottom of the umbrella is a hexagon tube which slots into the bike mounting brackets. Bolts or brackets connect to the stem of your bike, and then make an elbow turn and have a hollow tube.

And here are a few variations on the mounting brackets. These photos show electrified tricycles, but the umbrellas are used on ordinary bikes just as much.

I love these things because they extend the mobility that you might have with your bike. Back in Bulli, if it’s raining Albie and I would probably take the car, even for a short trip, and really the only reason is that the car operates as a sort of “drivable umbrella”. But with this “convertible” roof, we could take the bike out more often in the wet.