China’s Utopian-Growth Overdose: Cities for Nobody

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China’s Growth Addiction: Oversupply, Overvaluation 

China’s bid to build a mega-city for 42 million people, merging nine cities into one in the southern region of Guangzhou, seems a too familiar gambit of growth for growth’s sake.  Called affectionately, “Turn the Pearl Delta into One,” the plan is to create an urban area 26 times the size of greater London — or about equal to the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

Unfortunately, rows and rows of overpriced high rise apartments and office buildings remain vacant, sprawling malls without tenants or shoppers, freeways and transit lines constructed for no one.  See the Dateline documentary from Australian television outlining the unfortunate result of too much capitalism-envy.

China’s Ghost Cities: Documentary by SBS Dateline (Australian TV) about the Chinese real estate market.

It is a familiar overreach, building too much, priced too high.  This bubble is in the process of bursting, inviting an economic implosion due to obsession with infrastructure and development for the sake of gross domestic product, without regards to the needs of the society and carrying capacity of the environment.

A Mega-Mall Too Big to Fail: 99 % Empty New South China Mall

The case of the world’s largest mega-mall that remains empty presents a number of problems for the economy, society and environment.  It always starts with a man’s dream: in this case an entrepreneur who wanted to build something grand on vacant farmland, far from transportation or people: too much money, not much sense.  It was planned for twice the size of Minnesota’s Mall of America, the previous largest mega-mall in the world.  Now that the monster has been created, it requires a succession of government-backed investment to keep the hopeless hope alive.

National Economic Overreach

To shield its economy from the fallout of the 2008 financial crisis, Beijing orchestrated a massive economic stimulus. It invested billions of dollars in infrastructure projects and encouraged banks to open credit without regards to the environmental and social downsides. The strategy advanced China past Japan as the world’s second largest economy, fending off the global slump affecting the rest of the world. China invested in Australian iron ore, Chilean copper, and Saudi Arabian oil to fuel its construction boom. As a result, China’s economy expanded nine percent annually in the last three years, at a time when the rest of the world has been in economic stagnation.

Moreover, a most damning side effect to the growth addiction has appeared: inflation. Food, housing, and living costs have skyrocketed for the average Chinese citizen, creating the potential for civil unrest. The property bubble has put home ownership out of reach of millions as well. Debt levels in China have also reached new heights, causing China to hike interest rates and tightening lending standards. The continuing recession in the rest of the world will not allow China to avert the problem, with a lowered demand for Chinese products.

The best solution for China is to invest in their own citizens, turning them into consumers as opposed to cheap labor for products to be exported throughout the world. Beijing has deliberately kept the yuan weak to maintain cheap exports. Yet a weak currency exacerbates inflation and erodes buying power of Chinese households. China’s per capita annual income is $7,600, ranking below Albania and Angola. Without a social safety net, individuals must fund their own health care, education, and retirement, which keep them from spending on consumer goods.

 

Sources:

Sarah Goodyear: “China’s Ghost Cities and the Biggest Property Bubble of all time,” Grist, March 31, 2011.

The Economist: “Pearl River Mega-City,” February 12, 2011.

Original link to SBS Dateline video: http://www.sbs.com.au/dateline/story/watch/id/601007/n/China-s-Ghost-Cities

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Jack Eidt

About Jack Eidt

Writer, urban theorist, and environmental advocate, Jack Eidt careens down human-nature's all consuming one-way highway to its inevitable conclusion - Wilder Utopia. He co-founded Wild Heritage Planners, based out of Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at jack (dot) eidt (at) wilderutopia (dot) com.