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CHINAS NEW MEGACITIES
MICHIEL HULSHOF & DAAN ROGGEVEEN
CONTENTS1. ZHENGZHOU 2. SHIJIAZHUANG 3. CHONGQING 4. WUHAN 5. XIAN 6. KUNMING 7. CHANGSHA 8. LANZHOU 9. GUIYANG 10. HOHHOT 11. CHENGDU 12. YINCHUAN 13. KASHGAR EPILOGUE NOTES This is a business town How the city moved to Mr Sun Building the largest city in the world Canary Wharf in Central China Heaven for young leaders who enjoy life and shopping A new future for Old Civilization Street Millionaires in Little Venice When the factory prospers, I prosper Saving energy is using your finger Ten Thousand Galloping Horses Zaha goes Extra Large Stacked bars of gold In the East there is Shenzhen, in the West there is Kashgar 8 36 62 88 116 144 168 192 216 242 266 290 314 334 340
The city centre is as large as that of Frankfurt. Gleaming skyscrapers surround an artificial lake. The brand new roads are six lanes wide. A circular, two kilometre long mall surrounds the water. Porsche recently opened a flagship store here, but the real eye-catcher is the new theatre: five golden egg-shaped globes designed by Uruguayan architect Carlos Ott. It all looks very cosmopolitan. Apart from one thing. The city has no inhabitants. Yet.
THIS IS A BUSINESS TOWNHENAN - VIETNAMWith 94 million inhabitants, the population of Henan province is the same as the population of Vietnam
ne word: pandemonium. Thousands of travellers move in a massive jumble. Women try to sell us maps while men offer us taxi rides. We walk past hundreds of people queuing in long lines next to peasants sitting on their luggage. Bored youths with bleached hair stand around smoking, while girls hand out leaflets advertising newly built properties, circumventing the begging vagrants on the
ground. We see busses, taxis and scooters arriving from all directions. Everything is for sale. Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonalds and Dong Fang Ji Bai compete for hungry voyagers. Customers in small supermarkets throng around instant noodles, green tea and sunflower seeds. There are call shops, souvenir stalls and off licenses. Thousands of bags are stacked up in piles in front of a row of shops. Above all the deafening noise characterises the chaos, an indistinct blend of shouting, honking cars and the train station announcer. Almost all shopkeepers tout their wares from large loudspeakers on the street. Special offer. Dont miss it. Special offer. Dont miss it. Special offer. Dont miss it. Everything cheap. Doesnt matter what. Everything is two yuan. Doesnt matter what. Two yuan. Special offer. Dont miss it.
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It is February 2009, and the two of us, a journalist and architect from Europe, are standing on Station Square in Zhengzhou. A fascination with the unknown megacities in the heart of China has driven us here. We live in Shanghai, and up to several weeks ago, the name Zhengzhou meant little to us. Friends in Shanghai dismissively speak of that pokey provincial town or even that village, despite the fact that, according to the Statistical Yearbook, Zhengzhou has seven million inhabitants. The reason for this obscurity is obvious: Zhengzhous precipitous growth started only very recently. Thirty years of Chinese reforms caused the boom of East Coast mega-metropolises like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzen. Other coastal towns have similarly grown into flourishing cities of millions. This trend is now moving westward at a furious pace. In a few short years, economic growth and the pace of urbanisation have reached unprecedented rates. Far from the ocean and out of sight from the world, Zhengzhou, Chongqing, Shijiazhuang and Wuhan are growing into the (big) brothers and sisters of international metropolises such as Rio de Janeiro, Madrid, Dubai and Chicago. We visit Zhengzhou as a prelude to a two year investigation into the burgeoning metropolises in the heart of China. Over time, we will examine sixteen of them: fifteen provincial capitals and one future boom town. Their populations vary between two and thirty-two million. Their economic growth is gigantic: well over ten per cent annually over the last decade. Almost all of them have pristine new international airports, in anticipation of direct connections to Tokyo, Bangkok or Amsterdam. In the next twenty years, an estimated 280 million Chinese villagers will become city dwellers, attracted by the profusion of jobs and opportunities in the city. The urbanisation rate will increase from about fifty per cent at present, to almost seventy per cent by 2030. This means that, in the coming century, China will change from a rural into an urban society, a modernisation project influencing the lives of hundreds of millions. This transformation involves numbers that capture the imagination. Consulting firm McKinsey, for instance, eagerly notes that in the coming years China will annually construct more than fifteen hundred buildings of thirty stories or higher, boiling down to the equivalent of a new Chicago every year. The effects of this colossal urbanisation are felt far outside China. The enormous increase in construction has provoked an explosive demand for steel, and causes price rises and budget overruns in construction projects in the rest of the world. ConsumersZHENGZHOU(1960)
9 HOW THE CITy mOvEd TO mr SUN
in Europe and the United States buy sunglasses and phones flowing from the new factories in the interior of China. The growing urban middle class has ever more money to spend, driving up demand for luxuries world wide, ranging from French wine to gold watches, designer bags and sport cars. Chinese students are conquering the lecture halls of Harvard and Yale. The new metropolises produce artists, movie directors, athletes and scientists whose paintings, movies, achievements and inventions are gaining growing recognition abroad. On the other hand, urbanisation has severe implications in terms of sustainability: it causes higher emissions of greenhouse gasses and puts further pressure on dwindling oil and gas reserves. All the same, Chinas large scale urban development is an example for other countries. The experience gained in the interior of China benefits other developing areas in the world. Chinese architects are already designing new cities in Africa and South America.
She points at the most important tourist attraction around: the new Central Business District.During our walk through the station district Zhenghzou at first sight leaves a dreary impression. The predominant colour is grey, thanks to the quality of the air, a suffocating mixture of fog and coal dust. Here and there between the buildings, factory chimneys stick up into the sky. The traffic is congested in many places, and where it is not, pedestrians risk their lives crossing the road. Concrete apartment blocks with barred windows stand next to gleaming malls, half-completed hotels and undeveloped plots of land. The disarray continues inside the buildings. We enter a tower block at random and find shops, guest houses, an online gaming caf, a bowling alley, a hairdresser and numerous restaurants under and beside each other. Despite Februarys wintery cold, life takes place largely on the street. Old people dance or play table tennis in the park, while young people play billiards in the open air. Street vendors sell telephones, mp3-
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players, phone cards, gloves and scarves. On the markets traders are hawking trousers, T-shirts, coats, toys, household appliances, meat, vegetables and fish. And everybody is eating: roast potatoes, fried tofu, chunks of pineapple, sausages and pancakes. People shout at us every hundred metres or so, a sign that the locals are not used to seeing foreigners. The only Westerners in the street are the models on gigantic billboards plastered all over the sides of buildings. A few international fashion chains have discovered Zhengzhou as a promising consumer market: Adidas, Jack Jones and Miss Sixty. The architecture is an eclectic post-modern mix. Besides drab communist block flats and modern business buildings we see a restaurant shaped like a French chateau, a government office with Roman columns and a massage parlour in a Texan ranch. In the park a dilapidated Chinese temple stands next to a new Egyptian sphinx. This leads to absurd conversations. Is that a mosque? No, a shopping centre. As evening falls, the city changes from grey to multi-coloured. Neon lights cover literally everything hotels, restaurants, offices, clubs, karaoke bars, the Ferris wheel and viaducts. Giant video screens everywhere display adverts, news and trailers for the latest movies. Zhengzhou lies about 600 kilometres west of Beijing and is the capital of Henan province. To get a feel for the size of Chinese provinces it helps to compare them to American states or European countries. Henan is four times smaller than France, but has one and a half times the number of inhabitants: ninety-four million to be exact. This comparison also illustrates the regional importance of the capital. What Paris is to the French, Zhengzhou is to most inhabitants of Henan. China has known large cities for thousands of years. Over 3600 years ago, Zhengzhou was one of the most important Shang dynasty cities. Today, nothing but a few ruins remain. The development of the modern city started with the construction of the train station in 1903. Industrialisation commenced after the communist takeover in 1949, with Zhengzhou appointed as a centre for textiles and tobacco. Factories sprang up everywhere, along with residential communes for the workers. In the 1960s and 1970s urbanisation ground to a halt as Mao ruthlessly attempted to transform China into an agrarian society. After Maos death Chinas new leader Deng Xiaoping opted for another economic model, putting cities centre