Although cities and villages represent two different production and lifestyles, each with its own advantages and disadvantages, the two are still an organic whole. Only by considering urban and rural areas as an organic whole, it is possible to realize resource exchange and promote urban and rural prosperity. A good city and a good country will both make life better.
Rural revitalization is a historical process that must be strategically determined for a long time. As early as 2002, Shanghai won the right to host the World Expo, and with the slogan “Better City, Better Life”, I came up with the concern that the rural value was neglected in the process of over-emphasizing urbanization. I decided to launch an experimental project and explore the new possibilities for urban-rural interaction in China. This project, the “DESIGN Harvests” that has lasted for 11 years.
Although cities and villages represent two different production and lifestyles, each with its own advantages and disadvantages, the two are still an organic whole. Many urban problems and rural problems that now are largely produced due to the separated treatment of the two. From a long-term perspective, to consider urban and rural areas as an organic whole is the only possibility to realize resource exchange and promote the common prosperity in urban and rural areas. A good city and a good country will both make life better. The rural production lifestyle is rich in economic and human values. Therefore, we hope to find new impetus for sustainable development in rural areas by design thinking and redefining problems. This new power may be a new choice outside of our single urbanization.
As the forerunner of human conscious creation activities, design is an effective means to drive innovation and realize resource upgrading and utilization. Behind the links between urban and rural resources and needs, it is actually a huge economic and entrepreneurial opportunity. Design and design thinking can be used to create a new idea of sustainable development in urban and rural areas. Here, the design challenge that needs to be solved is how to achieve urban-rural interaction in terms of talent, capital, knowledge, skills, and employment through design. On a larger scale, the activation of different ways of living and production in rural and urban areas should lead to the creation of a huge new economy.
Based on the above considerations, I chose Chongming Island as our experimental base. The reason is that Chongming is not only the largest agricultural base in Shanghai, but also has the reputation of an international ecological island. It is easy to gather the intelligence of the whole world to think about how to find a solution strategy for realizing urban-rural interaction. Realize the cowed-creation and sharing. The project received strong support from the local government. As for the specific selection point, we hope that it can meet three conditions: First, the transportation is not convenient; Second, there is no special resources; Third, there must be people who are willing to change, especially township cadres. In the end, we chose Xianqiao Village in Shuxin Town as an experimental point. At that time, there was no bridge and tunnel. Xianqiao Village is located in the middle of two ferry stations. It is a very ordinary village with neither celebrities nor special scenery. The experimental project was unanimously recognized by the local town and village government, and we has proceeded the cooperation for 11 years.
Choosing Xianqiao is both full of opportunities and challenges for us. If we can make Xianqiao alive, we can use it as a model to promote it to a wider extent. After the project was launched, the first three years were research-based. Through field research, international design workshops, seminars, etc., more than 20 universities and enterprises from all over the world were involved. Through research, we have a deeper understanding of the village and found many valuable opportunities, and through various design methods such as strategic design, environmental design, product service design, product design, communication design, brand design, business model design, etc. Explore the possibility of transforming it into innovation. These have become the basis for our design-driven urban-rural interaction and positive rural revolution.
Since 2010, we have decided to implement the idea. By deciphering the previously proposed solution strategy, we decided to design a “acupuncture-based” strategy to activate exchanges and interactions between the urban and rural resources, talent, capital, knowledge, and services through a small, interrelated series of design intervention projects. To activate rural potential and promote systemic changes, just like acupuncture at key points to achieve adjustment of the entire body. These projects include the cultivation of farms using natural farming methods and the production of agricultural by-products. For example, we have remodeled six greenhouses in the village and used one of them to carry out activities to solve the problem of lack of flexible and open space in the village. In the greenhouse, we try to imagine different business models, including rural knowledge exchange, training, parenting, and pension. At the same time, we have transformed several vacant farmer houses called “Tian Geng”, “He Jing” and “Hua Mi”, which have become platforms for expanding the attractiveness of the countryside. Since 2015, “DESIGN Harvests” and “Open&Fun Village” have cooperated to plan the "Flow/Flux"-Artist Residency Program to promote art and design into rural areas through graffiti and creation to activate rural culture and economy.
In addition to physical platforms, we have also built digital platforms to better link consumer and rural resources. Over the past few years, we have organized a number of activities to test business models and see if consumers in the city are willing to come or in what way. These "prototype projects" built year by year have gradually formed a "small and interconnected" system. By reforming the supply side of the village, they have created new demands, new jobs, new formats and new models to help young entrepreneurs to start businesses in the countryside. Create a new path of sustainable development based on the new economy, new model and new employment based on urban-rural interaction.
If the mathematical quadrant is used to define the “DESIGN Harvests”, it is developed in four quadrants defined by two axes, the horizontal axis is the city and the country, and the vertical axis is the virtual and the entity. We started from the two quadrants of the country and the entity, and expanded to several other quadrants. We thought about how to bring urban resources to the countryside in the early stage; now we are thinking about how to bring rural resources to the cities. The current plan focuses on urban agriculture and agricultural product circulation services, especially new forms based on urban agriculture, such as catering, office, learning, retail, entertainment, etc., changing the public's dual recognition of agriculture and cities in terms of concept, living and economy.
Now, this project has stepped out of the research room and started run a bussiness by a group of young people. Although the road is difficult, it has begun to move forward gradually. I believe it can be done. This new economic model and market requires a large number of “game rules redefiners”, that is, more entrepreneurial young people need to join the process of changing society. Regardless of whether it is “new agriculture, rural areas and farmers” or "big design", entrepreneurship is a new blood driving social development. Especially in the moment of “mass entrepreneurship and innovation”, entrepreneurs should think about the development of the times with new thinking and seize the opportunities of the times to create a new world.
Since the project was launched, it has received wide attention from the society, but it has not been accurately recognized. Nowadays, many media regard “DESIGN Harvest” as a new countryside, a peach blossom, etc. In fact, this is not the essence of the project. “DESIGN Harvests” is essentially an entrepreneurial project, dedicated to opening a business model with self-hematopoietic function; it is also a platform for more people to display their talents and contribute wisdom on this platform, and promote rural revitalization and social innovation.
In this project, the university exists as an important force that positively changes society. At the start of the project, few design colleges have taken root in rural work, and now more and more design colleges have joined the square of urban-rural interaction and rural transformation. Combining the resolution of social problems with education, research and social services should also be an important direction for future university development. As an ongoing and expanding experimental exploration, the future of “DESIGN Harvests” , in addition to urban agriculture, food distribution system, urban and rural community interaction and intervention, also hopes to achieve the innovation that transform the individual and professional creativity into the daily life. The vision of “DESIGN Harvests” is to build a huge “design-driven urban-rural interaction” crowd-funding, innovative and entrepreneurial ecological community. In this community, people have ideals, provide creative solutions for China's “three rural issues” and sustainable urban and rural development through active intervention, innovation and entrepreneurship, aim at the imbalance between urban and rural development in China.
"The new three rural issues" and big design is the field that I believe to be a huge stage for Chinese creativity, and it will also be a contribution of Chinese design to the social development and even to the world civilization.