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.