It was 2006 when, wandering around China, the reporter Wade Shepard found out a city that was almost empty. It was not an ancient village, neither an abandoned town. It actually seemed a newly built urban centre, waiting for potential inhabitants to came in and take advantage of its various apartments and facilities.
That was it, indeed. According to Baidu, China national Google, there are nowadays more than 50 of these “Chinese Ghost Cities”, scattered through developing areas of the vast national territory. These architectural oddities actually follow a defined plan of action, with the purpose of responding to the growing demand for urbanization and development that raised in the 90s and 00s.
Big commercial malls, hotels and luxurious apartments, public spaces and modern avenues are some of the urbanistic choices that characterize these metropolitan areas, which seem to be missing only one thing: people. Baidu research proves that most of these ghost cities are occupied for the 5% of their capacity and it takes more or less 10 years in order to reach their functional breakeven point.
Shepard, who just published the essay “Chinese Ghost Cities”, interrogates himself about the reason for these urbanistic, and anthropological, phenomena.
Scholars find the explanation in political choices and needs. Chinese government, in fact, while asking for a high percentage of taxes, leaves to municipalities up to the 80% of the administrative expenses. Due to this weight, districts resolved to buy the land farmers where selling while looking for fortune in developed cities in late 90s. They approved these areas as building lands, and sold them at much higher price to investors. The selling contract, though, also included a relevant provision: all of this land had to be renovated as urban.
This is probably how all the Chinese ghost cities began. The provision assured the area’s development and also gave work to lots of people in the region, with the typical Keynesian vision of private-public investment in order to give a push to local economy.
The political strategy doesn’t seem to immediately get results, though. New built centres don’t meet the possibilities of locals, neither the aspirations of rich urbanized people, that can’t find interesting a city with no economic activity beside itself and no potential for the moment.
This is the reason why there are so many Chinese Ghost Cities, still lingering in the promise of future prosperity.
All images ©Tim Franco