Filling in the blanks

On 15 oktober 2015, in boeken, duurzaamheid, economie, by Zef Hemel

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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Building debt

On 1 september 2015, in boeken, vastgoed, by Zef Hemel

Read in NRC Handelsblad of 28 August 2015:


Prime minister Li Keqiang of China is in a difficult political position. For more than seven weeks now the Chinese exchange is in a crisis. Li Keqiang, the Amsterdam based newspaper NRC Handelsblad reported, has an agenda of restructuring the Chinese economy, but will he succeed?  His biggest problem is a national debt of 28.000 billion dollars, that is 282 percent of Chinese Gross Domestic Product. Cause of this huge debt is a policy of stimulating the national economy for so many years. How? By building ghost cities. At least that’s more or less what I read in Wade Shepard’s ‘Ghost Cities of China’ (2015). It is “the story of cities without people in the world’s most populated country.” Shepard, from New York, has made a living as an archeologist, a geographical researcher, a journalist, a farmhand and an independent blogger. In 2005 he ended up in China for the first time. Chinese cities and their fast growth fascinated him from the start, that’s why he decided to write a book on the subject. Something was going wrong. Next to his book he also produced a website on ghost cities:

On page 48 of his book Shepard mentions the prime minister for the first time. In 2000 Mr. Li Keqiang was governor of Henan province. His speciality: promoting economic growth by urban development. Zhengzhou, Mr. Li Keqiang decided, should be the new economic hub of central China. That’s why he started building Zhengdong New District in 2003: a modern, better functioning, car-friendly complement to the existing city. In 2015 Zhengdong New District was already bigger than San Francisco. By 2020 the new city will contain more than 5 million inhabitants. Li Keqiang invested 25,8 billion US dollars on the urban scheme. Shepard: “It is often said that he (Li Keqiang) is the architect of China’s broader new city movement. This ascension is partially due, no doubt, to his role in Zhengzhou.” Zhengzhou now has more than 11 million inhabitants and is growing at a rate of 9,4 per cent per year. Mr. Li Keqiang moved to Beijing and became prime minister. His task is fighting debt. It’s a pity his speciality is building new cities. They cost a fortune and take a long time before they thrife. He should transform old, bustling cities: the real economic powerhouses.

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