Reality of Urbanization Catching up to the Dream
China’s ambitious urbanization plan is getting results: the country now has 102 cities housing more than one million people. The drive to move investment and infrastructure west to develop poor inland regions has had mixed results and created so-called ghost cities, in which the infrastructure and high rises are built but the residents don’t come. To reverse that trend, three local representatives at the recent National People’s Congress argued that urban planners should focus less on building skyscrapers and more on providing services and creating jobs for the displaced residents.
The Guardian this week looks at the urbanization of China from various perspectives. Reporter Tom Phillips revisits newly developed Lanzhou New Town, in Gansu Province, which he last visited in 2013 when it was still under construction. He now writes:
Reality took a while to catch up with the dream. When I first visited in 2013, as villagers came to terms with the destruction of their once-remote rural homes, an eerie hush gripped the city’s almost completely empty streets. The relentless din of car horns – a trademark of urban China – was completely absent. Dozens of tower blocks were under construction but, aside from builders, there was hardly a soul to be seen. Both Chinese and foreign journalists who flocked to the city came away convinced it was a flop.
Returning four years later, however, I found this sleeping western giant appears to be slowly awakening as housing projects begin to fill up and pioneers start to move in.
“People are buying property and moving in,” insists Shepard, who has visited the city twice. “As improbable as it sounds, it’s kind of coming to life. The place is almost like a mirage out in the middle of the desert. You see it glimmer on the horizon. You see it but you don’t really believe it is there – and then all of a sudden you are in the middle of it.”
City officials declined to be interviewed by the Guardian about their progress in luring humans to the region’s lunar landscape. But during a government propaganda tour last year, Xu Dawu, Lanzhou New Area’s deputy Communist party secretary, claimed it had already attracted 150,000 permanent residents as well as 40,000 construction workers who were temporarily living there.
Those numbers seem wildly inflated with huge swaths of the city still completely vacant. [Source]
Elsewhere in the Guardian, writer Xiaolu Guo describes the transformation of the isolated village she grew up in:
All that remains now of this world are a few black-and-white photos. The growth of my town obliterated almost everything. In the 90s, I left Wenling to study in Beijing; seven years after university, I became a film lecturer. When I finally returned to my hometown for a visit, I was lost.
I remember standing on a traffic island in the middle of a four-lane street, clustered with traffic lights. In my entire teenage life, Wenling never had a single traffic light. I saw peasants and old people still unused to the ways of traffic signs, just like the donkeys they led by grass ropes. Tricycle taxis had been replaced by buses, and the Town Hall had now expanded into an imposing communistic City Hall. The once blooming rapeseed fields had given way to massive construction sites. Only old Tiger Mountain remained, her proud head rising above the smog. When the sky was clear, I could see a new transmitter tower on top of the Tiger’s head. The monks all had mobile phones. [Source]
A series of time-lapse videos from the Guardian shows the physical changes to various regions of China due to urbanization over the past 30 years.