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China is considered to be one of the fast developing countries in the world. Such a high rate of development has been attributable to the fact the region is endowed with the necessary resources needed in the construction and development of infrastructure.1 As such, over the past, the country has experienced rapid development of real estate projects. Numerous housing districts have been put up in different parts of the country. In spite of the continued growth and development of the real estate industry in China, as well as the establishment of new districts, the country’s actual demand for new housing is significantly low. This is based on the fact that most of available cities have actual low demand, implying that the development of new housing structures increases the housing vacancy rate. Such a scenario has led to the development of “ghost cities” in China, a concept that refers to cities that have a high housing vacancy rate as a result of high numbers of new cities that exceed the current demand. While the urbanization project in China led to the growth of numerous ghost cities, the on-going development projects in the country is an indication that the Chinese “ghost cities” will be fully occupied in the future.
During the recent years, there has been fast development in China in the real estate sector. The review of China’s development status reveals that the built area in the country increased by over 30,000 sq. kilometers between 1984 and 2010. Such a high speed of development is considered unprecedented given the period that it has taken to construct so many buildings in China.2 More evident, various studies carried out regarding the development of China indicated that the country has used significantly high amount of concrete between 2011 and 2013 than the United States of America used in the 20th century. Speed at which new buildings and cities have been constructed in China is attributable to the country’s urbanization goals. Nevertheless, the fast rate of urbanization in China has been instrumental in the development of ghost cities in the country, where the percentage of vacant buildings exceeds that of occupied ones. According to Shepard, “ghost cities” refer to any development that is characterized by high rates of under-capacity, and runs in a region that has fewer businesses and people in comparison to the available development space.3
A lot of attention has been given on the “ghost city” phenomenon in China over the recent years. China is one of the world’s highly populated countries, as well as one of the world’s largest to have empty cities. The current scenario of “ghost cities” serves to show that there is more to urbanization than just mere big and sprawling cities. According to empirical evidence, the coexistence of skyscrapers amidst shanty towns s a typical urban malady that needs to be avoid in the course of a country’s development.4 For this reason, there is a need for new building and construction guidelines to control the development of cities in China. Numerous concerns have been expressed regarding the development of new urban areas in China. As such, new urban districts can only be allowed is the population density of any given city is very high or where such development would counter the occurrence of natural disasters in the future.
Chinese Urban Development
Over the past years, China has been experiencing rapid development in various parts of the country. Such growth in urban areas aligns with the country’s project to construct urban centers including new cities, which are commonly referred to as xinshi or the xincheng, as well as the construction of new towns and districts known as xingu and xin chengzhen respectively. New cities in China are considered to be new areas that have administrative zones based on the county level. Such cities are developed from county level zones into large urban areas. The country has an initiative to create more than 100 million urban areas by the end of 2020. This project was started following the rapid migration to cities witnessed in the past. As such, the aim of project is to reduce the rate of urban migration by bringing cities closer to people through the urbanization process.5
Understanding the Concept of “Ghost Cities” in China
The development and urbanization demand in China has been attributed to the influx of people in China’s major cities in the last decades. It is estimated that more than 250 million people have migrated to the majority of Chinese large cities in the last three decades, causing a demand for more room for the new city residents as evident between 1984 and 2010. While a significant part of China’s new cities have been beneficial to a large number of people, there remains a high percentage of built areas that have not been put into constructive use since people are not willing to occupy them.
The existence of “ghost cities” is China has raised a lot of debate and concerns over the recent years. For example, some people have pointed out that such cities depict the challenges associated with top-down planning as well as the availability of cheap funds for businesses. In addition, there are concerns that there are no enough places in China where people can invest their money for better returns other than in the real estate.6 On the other hand, there are other groups of people who belief that the development of the “ghost cities” was sparked by the need among people in government to make quick money since it is believed that land sales have a capacity for high sales generation. In spite of this, there are still other individuals who hold on to the fact that the concept of “ghost cities” in China has been overblown noting that such developments are important for the future of the country.
In spite of the current debates as well as the rampant media reports about the existence of numerous cities in China that have a considerably high vacant housing area, empirical evidence indicates that media and many people at times have a complete opposite idea about “ghost cities”. Such scenario has been evident in the contradiction in the results from various researches to examine the case of Rushan City. For example, some researchers have indicated that there are more residents in the city, a move that led to the expulsion of the concept of ghost city. In spite of this, such findings are unreliable since they were based on data collected through counting of lit homes at night.
The growth of the tourism sector in China has been instrumental for the growth and development of “ghost cities” in the country. This is based in the facts that as tourists increase in the country, so does the demand for attractive tourism resources including vacation houses. In spite of such a situation, it has been evident that such houses are only useful during peak seasons for tourism. The implication is that such areas tend to have low occupancy rate after major tourism seasons. For this reason, it becomes important to understand the real concept of “ghost cities” in China.
Developers often use the vacant hosing rate as a factor of evaluating how healthy a given real estate is, in a city. Additionally, such factor is can be used to assess as well as identify the “ghost cities”. In spite of this, data about Chinese vacant housing rate is not available. This is attributable to the fact that there are numerous problems associated with the calculation of the vacant housing rate, as well as the length of vacancy since there is no standard definition for such rate.
Theoretical Perspective of Urban Change
The presence of high spatial resolution has always been a challenge towards the examination of the population data as well as the real estate data for any given region. Such a problem also affects the efforts to understand the concept of a “ghost city”. This has been the major drawback in understanding the phenomenon of “ghost city” in China. In spite of this, it is evident that the development of various cities in the country has been instigated by the need for China to integrate itself further into the global economy. This has also been shown through the development of science parks in the country. Such structures have been given the priority as a partnership link between the government, research, and industry.
The development path followed by China differs significantly with the approach that was common during in the past. This is attributable to the fact that in the past, there was a close relationship between the big industry used in mobilizing the nation and the big science. Presently, the developed science parks take the consideration of global network aimed at the facilitation of capital, personnel, as well as technological circulation. This scenario explains the relationship between China’s continuous growth and development and its social exclusion, entrepreneurship, as well as innovation.7 For this reason, as the growth of ghost towns in China continues, there is a need to look at the potential of these exclusive spaces in terms of speculation, hedging, desire, as well as consumption.
There are numerous theories that tend to explain the concept of urban geography. However, the majority of these theories are focused on the identification of a law that can be used to explain the economic, political, and social aspects of development as evident in the contemporary world. The overreliance on such frameworks has led to the emergence of various explanatory conditions. In this mix, there are concerns that globalization in the contemporary world is driven by abstract capitalism. This can be attributed to the fact that the concept of capitalism is used to rank cities according to their sizes and also subdivides the urban space. As such, it can be considered that the idea of capitalism is to blame for the dismantling of political authority as well as the undermining of public space.
Based on this concept, cities tend to be examined from the perspective of functioning nodes. As such, great cities are categorized based on their economic value. This categorization explains the scenario in China where some cities are highly occupied while others are sparsely populated.8 The implication is that new cities are yet to gain the economic value as in the case of the big and existing cities. The growth of shantytowns in the many parts of the world is attributable to the lack of industrialization. This is attributed to the fact that the advent of globalization has pushed many people to the cities resulting in migrant flows and high garbage production.9 Such a scenario as witnessed in China in the eighties requires effective industrialization. This justifies China’s rapid development and creation of new towns.
In spite of schematic approach to explanation of the impacts of globalization in third-world countries, there are still gaps that need to be filled as far as insights into the challenges and solutions in the majority of these countries. There is credible evidence to show that the demographic development of cities in most parts of the world results into more than mere development of shantytowns. For example, China has some of the fast-growing and populated cities in the word despite the existence of numerous sparsely populated cities in the country.10 Therefore, according to this assertion, it is evident that acceleration in the growth of urban population can be linked to the emergence of middle class.
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According to the analysis of Chinese growth and development, it is evident that the country has had massive developments in the pasts and this phenomenon is likely to continue for many years. Such rapid urbanization can be traced back to the need to reduce rural to urban migration and its consequences such massive waste production and the development of shanty towns. For this reason, a project aimed at creating more than 100 million urban areas by 2020 was launched, which has seen the development of xinshi or the xincheng, the xingu as well as xin chengzhen. While according to the capitalism approach lack of industrialization leads to the growth of shantytowns, urbanization in the case of china has led to empty cities due to high vacancy housing rate.
Concerns have been raised over the future of Chinese “ghost cities” with some scholars arguing that the development of such urban areas was a waste of resources and that such cities will remain unoccupied. However, there are others who are optimistic that the presence of such cities is an advantage as far as the future of China in the ever changing environment is concerned. This assertion is based on the fact that such cities are suitable as a countermeasure to the continued rural to urban migration as evident in some of the cities whose housing vacancy rate is slowly reducing. This signifies that as time passes, Chinese “ghost cities” will be fully filled.
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- Diganta Das and Tong Lam. “High-Tech Utopianism: Chinese and Indian Science Parks in the Neo-Liberal Turn.” BJHS Themes 1, no. 2 (2016): 221.
- Vernon Henderson, “Cities and Development,” Journal of Regional Science 50, no. 1 (2010): 517.
- Wade Shepard, Ghost Cities of China: The Story of Cities Without People in the World’s Most Populated Country, (London, UK: Zed Books, 2015), 12.
- Aihwa Ong, Introduction: Worlding Cities, or the Art of Being Global, (New Jersey, NJ: Wiley‐Blackwell, 2011), 34.
- Tom Miller, China’s urban billion: The Story Behind the Biggest Migration in Human History, (London, UK: Zed Books, 2012), 26.
- John Friedmann, “Reflections on Place and Place‐making in the Cities of China,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 31, no. 2 (2007): 279.
- Keller Easterling, Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space, (New York, NY: Verso Books, 2014), 25.
- Ai-hwa Ong, Hyperbuilding: Spectacle, Speculation, and the Hyperspace of Sovereignty, (Hoboken, NJ: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2011), 45.
- Hong Yu, “China’s “Ghost Cities”,” East Asian Policy 6, no. 2 (2014): 34.
- Xin-Rui Wang, Eddie Chi-Man Hui, and Sheng-Hua Jia, “The New Urbanization Policy in China: Which Way Forward?” Habitat International 47, no. 2 (2015): 281.