Blast from the past

This is an amazing film about Chicago released by the city’s Board of Education circa 1945-46, with great images of architecture, commerce and industry in what was then allegedly the world’s second-largest city. (By contrast, Chicago doesn’t even make the Wikipedia list of the world’s 91 most populous cities today.)

Much of the urban landscape of today’s Chicago is recognizable in the film, but of course, a lot has changed. It’s a glimpse into a mostly vanished world.

Shenzhen built more skyscrapers than the US in 2016

Because it can:

Skyscraper construction saw another year of superlatives in 2016, according to the latest annual report from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. An unprecedented 128 buildings of 200 meters’ height or more (656 feet) were completed around the globe last year (some of which are pictured in this article), a new record that comes on the heels of two previous record-setting years. Since 2000, 903 such buildings have been constructed, a 441 percent increase.

And, no surprise, China is the world leader by a wide margin, with 84 percent of the total stock of new, 200-meter-plus structures going up in that country, including the 111-floor Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre. The city of Shenzhen saw 11 of these towers completed last year. For comparison, seven such structures were built in the entire United States in 2016.

According to CTBUH, there are 328 skyscrapers at least 200 meters tall under construction across China. Wow.

Shenzhen CFC Changfu Center (completed 2016)

China’s ghost cities are filling up

As expected:

A half-decade ago, China counted perhaps three dozen ghost towns like Tianducheng, places author Wade Shepard called “the stillborn carcasses of cities that never knew life” in his book, Ghost Cities of China.

Littered across the landscape, they were warning signs pointing to the excesses in China’s building boom, an era of unconstrained growth that was the biggest the world has ever seen. But today, they are looking less like epic mistakes and more like temporary disasters.

“There’s not a single one in the country that isn’t in the process of filling up,” said Mr. Shepard.

Or look at Ordos Kangbashi, the Inner Mongolia city built in the desert and so famous for its desolation that tourists flocked to the bizarre site of its Genghis Khan sculpture soaring over emptiness.

The joke used to be that the only people walking the streets of Ordos were BBC reporters.

Now, its population is nearing 100,000, about a third of what it was built to accommodate, and the local government is handing out housing exchange certificates to nearby residents to encourage them to move in.

Ghost towns, it turns out, are easier to fix than the masses of empty apartment towers wedged into the corners of urban centres across the country.

Also, don’t count on the filling-up trend to continue indefinitely. The Chinese government announced a plan in 2013 to steer the movement of some 250 million people from the countryside to the cities over the following dozen years; this was downgraded in 2014 to the more “modest” goal of 100 million people by 2020. This endless supply of people would presumably soak up much of the empty housing inventory in the burgeoning cities.

But life doesn’t always work out according to the plans of Chinese bureaucrats. About 9 million people moved to the cities per year in the 2000s. However, this epic migration has dramatically slowed. In 2015, it appeared to reverse itself, as the migrant population shrank for the first time in three decades, by 5.68 million.

Check out the quoted article for some great images of Tianducheng, a former ghost town with a 354-foot-tall replica of the Eiffel Tower, along with a surreal music video filmed there.