China is a country of boom towns. Even with decades of the One Child Policy in and out of place, the world’s largest national population has now grown to 1.4 billion, with an annual population increase rate of 0.5%. It is no surprise that with such a large workforce, in addition to reasonably low labour costs, that entire cities have to ability to be constructed from scratch five years.
Ordos, an inner Mongolian city in China, and ‘Haiuku Towers’, a proposed tower city in Hainan, are two examples of such cities. Haiuku Towers is set to be completed in 2015, the creation of ten 150 – 450 metre high towers taking only four years to come to fruition in order to create this utopian city. Public and industry members alike have been in awe of the fantastic science fiction styled renderings that promise an incredible new city.
The key difference between the Towers and the Kangbashi district in Ordos, is that the latter has come out of conceptual phase and now stands completed, bringing with it a rather harsh reality that is so easily lost in stylised renderings.
Ordos has often been referred to as the Dubai or Texas of China. Taking only five years to build, the new city is a replacement for the old, which lies 15 miles away. Modern Ordos has the country’s 2nd highest income per capita due to the booming coal deposits found in the area, which aided the fast delivery of the city. The residential developments span for miles, with brand new roads, skyscrapers, a world class shopping mall, and the highly acclaimed Ordos Museum designed by MAD architects to the tune of $5 billion in total. There is but one dot on this utopian city, and it is a sizeable one.
The city is empty.
Built for one million people, the official count of residents in the area currently stands at 28,000. The city’s spectacular shopping centre is 90% bare – in short, this beautiful city stands almost completely empty.
The question on everyone’s lips is why?
The answer is easy. There is simply no economy.
The government had planned for members of the original community, Ordos Proper, to move over to the new, but short of a mass move, there is little motivation for members to leave their busy city for a ghost town.
Expensive home prices also add to the inconvenience of moving, with many residents stating that simply cannot afford to live in the new area.
While the town is empty, it has not been a complete waste of resources. In fact, surprisingly, nearly all of the residences have been sold. They are simply not lived in. This is due to the fact that investors have bought properties, much like in Dubai, and are sitting on their homes waiting for the economic growth to begin.
And wait they will.
Prices are too high to move and too low to sell, so the idyllic town sits eerily empty, waiting for its residents.
Critics differ in their opinions of the catalysts for China’s massive construction efforts, ranging from the government’s fallout plans in the case of a massive conflict and following displacement, to the slightly more sceptical view that notes the correlation behind the country’s GDP and their industry productivity. In either event, the city as it stands, is simply aging.
It would be pig-headed and highly unproductive to dismiss out of the box architectural concepts. They are exciting, motivating and offer to shed a new and innovative light on an industry that has a long history. The suggestion is not to disparage innovation, but to encourage realism. If a concept is just that, then let it rest on the page as a grand idea that inspires, rather than running an incredibly wasteful risk.
What taking these unprepared designs into reality can do is create great waste. In terms of China, and specifically the city of Ordos, one major issue stands out – while those on the positive side see the investment in construction as government officials standing behind and catering to a growing population, a much more insidious critique of the whole project suggests that the country is virtually creating a false GDP. Only time will tell if these projects truly do pay off, or if the terrible possibility of China not producing an accurate GDP and finding themselves falling into a recession becomes a reality.