Ghost cities: Why China is building a metropolis in the middle of nowhere

Welcome to Xiongan, a bustling global metropolis, three times the size of New York. A powerful and influencial city worldwide, the center is located about 100 miles from Beijing, the historic capital of China. Oh, wait. Hardly anyone lives there yet. This place is all but a fantasy, at least now. Home to a few rural villages and farms, China’s government plans to build a brand new city here, literally, in the middle of nowhere.


Right after the announcement of the development, people were flocking to the Xiongan New Area. Property prices doubled overnight, with investors and others coming to the area, looking to acquire property as soon as possible. There was such a gridlock and craze in the area that the government enacted an emergency ban on the sale of property on the Monday after the announcement. The state said that universities and other institutions would be encouraged to move out of Beijing into the new area, aimed at relieving the nearby metropolis of 22 million people. Extremely congested and polluted, the goal is to move people out of the urban center.


Believe it or not, China has and has had many so-called new areas, where construction just started in the middle of nowhere on a brand new city. Obviously, all of this is only made possible by the fact that China is a one-party Communist state, and has no democratically elected government. In the United States, if a developer, or even the federal government, for that matter, attempted to build a skyscraper in the middle of rural Nebraska (though it would almost certainly not), it would never even get off the ground. Farmers wouldn’t give up their land. State governments wouldn’t allow it. Some say that these are just crazy projects of the Communist party, which they are. But can this even work? Maybe. Shenzhen, now a thriving city, was also practically built from scratch in the 1980s under former leader Deng Xiaoping, or so state-controlled media says. However, most are destined to become ghost cities.


In the Binhai New Area, a life-size replica of Manhattan, there are hardly any people. Once envisioned as a financial capital of the world, construction has been halted. What remains is a giant, uninhabited city full of skyscrapers.


Image courtesy of National Public Radio


In Ordos, another gigantic ghost city, at first new settlers were optimistic. Now, most have come to acknowledge the emptiness of the city. Most people simply won’t move into the middle of nowhere. Farmers will choose to continue their lifestyles. People seeking to get in on the action will most likely go to an established city, not one in the works. Although back a long time ago, like in the case of Shenzhen, such schemes worked, the same thing won’t happen in today’s China. The economy has stabilized. They are nothing but large models of the future the government envisions for China, with its plan to get 250 million people into cities. Most apartment blocks, and sleek copycat skyscrapers remain empty, attempting to imitate great global cities, but not quite getting the point. There’s a replica of the Rockefeller center, but it feels unreal. History can’t be manufactured in places where there is none. That’s not to say that some ghost cities can’t be breathtaking.


But can Xiongan succeed? If important institutions move from Beijing, and new transport connections are built, then perhaps. It could have a shot at becoming the twin city of Beijing. After all, it isn’t that far from the capital. That does not necessarily mean that this project was a good decision, but hey, you never know.

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