Filling in the blanks

Read in ‘Ghost cities of China’ (2014) of Wade Shepard:


So how does the story end? In ‘Ghost Cities of China’, the New York based writer Wade Shepard tells ‘the story of cities without people in the world’s most populated country’. “Between now and then, the country’s urban population will leap to over one billion, as the central government kicks its urbanization initiative in the overdrive.” Surely it will not be a happy end. So I read the full book, and I must say it is different from what you might expect after reading the text on the cover. Shepard ends his story like this: “China’s urbanization race cannot go on forever. Indeed the white flags are now being waved announcing the final lap.” For his conclusion Shepard referred to an announcement of the Chinese Ministry of Land and Resource in September 2014, which states that new urban development will be forbidden unless a city can prove that its population is too dense, or some kind of natural disaster occurs. That means the end of fast urbanization. Shepard: “The next fifteen years will be about filling in the blanks; much of the building has been done, it’s now time to do something with it.”

It’s no coïncidence that just a few months later, in August 2015, the Chinese stock market crashed and the economic growth of the Eastern empire started slowing down.  The economist Coen Teulings, professor at the universities of Cambridge and Amsterdam, came to the same conclusion. In NRC Handelsblad of 19 August 2015 he wrote that this crisis was no surprise to him either. Like in Japan and South Korea forty years ago, the fast economic growth of China was highly based on urbanization. “That growth slows down when all the migrants have moved to the cities, thus leaving an empty countryside.” If it wants to continue to grow, he adds, China needs a different strategy, based on consumption and innovation. “China should step into a more consumption-driven growth strategy with adequate social services.” As a planner I would add that by building ghost cities urban planning in China has not finished yet: now it is time to improve the Chinese megacities. Then the economy might keep on growing. I think my proposal also would be more sustainable than just promoting more consumption.



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