Kina forsøker å modernisere store deler av befolkningen ved å den fra gårdsbruk til urbane områder. Tidligere tiltak av samme omfang har vært lite heldige, Mao’s styre er et eksempel på det. Likevel, bygging av høyhus, sykehus og skoler pågår for fullt. Mye er allerede klart, men det er ingen som bor der- enda. I dag står der som hule skjelett, men mange vil heller kalle dem ufødte byer enn spøkelsesbyer. Vil Kina lykkes med å få folk bort fra jordbruket og inn i bylivet, og vil det gi mindre fattigdom? Nikkita Dixon utforsker status:
China’s about to take another ‘great leap forward’ – and ghost cities are just the beginning
written by: Nikkita Dixon
Moving an entire population from one way of life to another has never been a particularly good idea. The disastrous Mao-era Great Leap Forward is a testament to that. But that’s exactly what’s in store for some 250million farmers in rural China who will be propelled from their farms into city living come year 2026 – and the Chinese Government believes it’s already ten steps ahead of the game.
Since this ambitious plan was announced in 2015, construction has continued to rumble along on a number of new urban centres, complete with high-rise apartment buildings, hospitals, schools, parks, even public artwork, all to cater for a population of people that haven’t yet arrived. Some are calling them ‘ghost cities’, but others would argue ‘unborn cities’ to be a more appropriate term or perhaps more fairly ‘construction sites’.
Let’s look at how the concept has played out so far and what these ghost cities look like today.
What’s the overall plan?
According to the National New-type Urbanization Plan (2014-2020) unveiled two years ago, China will look to relocate 100million of its citizens from rural farms to cities by 2020. A further 250million will be shifted over the following six years.
Chinese officials report its urbanisation efforts have already pulled 600million people out of poverty in the past few decades. Continuing this trajectory, the country plans to ensure roughly 70 percent of its population (900million) are urban residents by 2026.
The idea is to move residents away from a life of rural self-sustenance and into a life of consumerism – thus sparking an increase in domestic demand for products. This, in turn, will create a surge in economic growth and ensure China becomes a driving force in the global economy. It also means China won’t be so reliant on exports, thus safeguarding the country against market fluctuations.
“Domestic demand is the fundamental impetus for China’s development,” the plan states, “and the greatest potential for expanding domestic demand lies in urbanization (sic).”
Rather than wait for the level of urbanisation to rise organically – less than 60% of Chinese residents live in cities currently – the government has opted to take matters into its own hands.
This vision runs parallel with existing plans to erect a number of megacities throughout the continent. According to the plan, ensuring the connection of China’s city centres will be paramount with a huge expansion of public transportation in the works. Railways and expressways will be extended to connect all cities with populations above 200,000, while cities with more than 500,000 people will be linked by high-speed rail.
To encourage farmers to give up their rural lifestyle, plan is to gift them an apartment in one of these new megacities and a lump sum of money for their land, as well as allow them to register as an urban resident, giving them access to healthcare, education and pensions.
How successful has it been so far?
While initially the residential numbers in these new cities increased at a snail’s pace – by 2015 there were more than 50 urban centres classified as ‘ghost cities’ – things are starting to pick up.
Recent reports suggest China’s most widely criticised ghost city Ordos Kangbashi is now almost at capacity. The city became infamous when census statistics showed just 28,000 people had moved in by 2010 – a far cry from the 300,000 it was being built to accommodate (roughly the population of Bergen). These days the figure is closer to 100,000 and, due a recent zoning change, that’s just about all the city needs to be considered fully occupied.
The negative press that has haunted the city’s development also appears to have been misguided. When reporters flooded into the city to capture ‘eerie’ photographs of a city ‘completely empty of people’, what they failed to mention was that many of the apartment buildings had already been sold, but were still under construction – understandable given work had only started on the city six years prior.
In fact, most of these ghost cities have been rapidly filling up with people over the past few years. The deserted streets of a town called Tianducheng, just outside Hangzhou, were the background for Jamie xx’s music video for Gosh, but just two years on and the population has soared to 30,000 – those same streets now bustling with families and city workers. Meanwhile China’s ‘largest ghost town’ Zhengdong New District, which featured in a bleak 60 Minutesreport in 2013, is now home to more than a million residents.
The government’s careful planning has no doubt helped, with local officials giving nearby residents housing exchange certificates to encourage them to relocate. Floor space was also rented out for free to local businesses to encourage uptake within new city shopping centres. The result being a flourishing urban centre designed specifically to cater for its population.
What obstacles have stood in the way?
The vision for urbanisation hasn’t been without its challenges. Not all farmers have been happy with their forced relocation and there have been various reports of local governments taking violent measures to evict residents. Other farmers have taken drastic measures in protest, including several who preferred to set themselves on fire than move.
Their unwillingness to leave their land stems from concerns their new urban homes will leave them without any means to generate income. Particularly older farmers who have struggled to find work in factories, with most still excluded from national pension plans. Several commentators have highlighted a risk of chronic unemployment long term.
The government hopes to solve some of these problems by giving farmers ‘shares’ in their forfeited land which would provide an income stream over several decades. Eventually the plan is to get these ex-farmers working so their tax dollars can go toward social welfare programs for any residents struggling with urbanisation. China also stands to lose its rural history, with villages and temples dating back to dynasties thousands of years ago already destroyed to make way for these new urban projects.
Right now the world is watching with bated breath. Is China on the brink of yet another gross miscalculation in social engineering by its own government? Or will the country succeed in hoisting its huge population out of the dark ages and into the future? Only time will tell.