The Bold Voice of J&K

China’s Ghost cities: Remnants of rapid urbanisation

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Makhan Saikia
Today, the ‘ghost cities’, which are created as a symbol of the urbanisation drive are earmarked by two prominent indicators: One, future supply and demand ratio and the other, measuring oversupply or undersupply against existing houses in one particular city. Though this kind of theoretical presumption has its own limitations, it could help throw some light on potential ghost cities or where housing supply will outstrip demand possibly by 2020
From afar, new cities resemble China’s grand success story of rapid urbanisation. The Socialist leaders initially thought that if massive infrastructure projects and buildings were put in place, prosperity would surely follow. The leadership in Beijing largely preached that urbanisation would be a long term engine for growth as millions of villagers who have started moving to the city centres in search of both jobs and new lifestyles.
The country’s burgeoning economy was marked by a sharp surge in the infrastructure business in the newly developed cities. Multi-storeyed residential societies, commercial complexes, malls, themed plazas, Government buildings, colossal futuristic architectures are signposts of China’s mad race to urbanisation. But then, China is bringing home a number of ‘ghost cities’ in its long and arduous journey of development.
Most of the cities like Shenzen show glittering façade of economic boom, but behind this, there lies the dirty picture of the growing social tensions in and around the cities. Shenzen model is exemplary, but not at all unique. When you carefully scrutinise the deep environmental impacts and falling labour conditions, then one realises and uncovers the massive suite of social ills that come along Shenzen’s growth and profits.
In fact, the employers in Shenzen’s highly mobile export processing industries bring labourers under fast-paced, often military style, repetitive assembly work, followed by long day work hours and long period of stay in dormitories or often barrack-style shelters.
It provides enough indication that young and skilled workers undergo ruthless work and exploitation just for earning their minimum wages. Though young workers are generally preferred over older ones, because of their superior manual dexterity and for their malleability and docility, it has been observed that they are not paid the wages that they could have qualified to receive in advanced industrialised nations. Basically, they are underpaid. Also the grueling tale about the laying off practices of many multinational corporations and their local cohorts in new cities in China shows that the older employees are simply dumped while recruiting the young ones.
As a result, the aged ones go back to the countryside with a few or absolutely no jobs by the time they attain their middle age. More than this, because of the existing “hukou” system i.e. housing registration system in China, the rural workers who migrate to cities in millions cannot avail the benefits of urban welfare, regardless of how long they stayed, worked and paid taxes in the cities. Even by China’s own admission, it comes to light that the success behind the country’s special economic zones like Shenzen and others is the result of the sheer exploitation of the low-wage immigrant workers from rural households. Thus odious social symptoms prominently overshadow China’s honeymoon with globalisation.
Today, the “ghost cities”, which are created as a symbol of the urbanisation drive are earmarked by two prominent indicators: One, future supply and demand ratio and the other, measuring oversupply or undersupply against existing houses in one particular city. Though this kind of theoretical presumption has its own limitations, yet it could help throw some light on potential ghost cities or where housing supply will outstrip demand possibly by 2020.
And, this will create havoc across most of China’s new industrial hubs. For instance new satellite cities like Jing Jin city near Tianjin, hardly an hour’s drive from Beijing, is home to about 3,000 villas, which are built by mixing exotic European and Chinese-style architectures, but sadly no one has occupied these homes or facilities. Of course, many of the villas have been sold, but their owners have rarely come there as they have multiple properties. These are models copied from Shanghai’s Pudong New Area. But the problem is that the developers find it too difficult to find their own conditions, both suitable industry and people, which could rightly match the model. A survey conducted by the National Development Reform Commission shows at least one such project is being constructed by every provincial Government across China.

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