Thursday, August 15, 2013

If You Build It, Will They Come?

Last weekend the Wall Street Journal posted a story (click here) about a ghost city in China. The town, six miles down the road from Tieling in northeastern China, is designed to hold 180,000 residents and it is a long way from accomplishing that goal. Chinese central planning, the build first find residents later model is not new. Ten years ago Shanghai went through this same spurt of growth and then took years to fill in the towers, apartments and offices. But Tieling is not Shanghai (see my last blog with Shanghai's videos below).

99% of development and growth in the United States is entrepreneurial and generally responds to market forces and supply and demand. When we mess with this through too much money flowing into a sector or government meddling we end up with 2008 to 2013: too much of everything (supply) and not enough users (demand). Balance will take years.

But I guess these rules of business and economics don’t apply in China. When you are sitting on billions and billions of yuan (much of it from trade imbalances with the US and the West) it has to be put somewhere and infrastructure can be a good home. A new city here and a new city there, why not? Stimulates the local economy, makes some people rich or richer and others well, just get out of the way. 

Some hard numbers: China has 1.3 billion people, that is about four times the number of people in the United States. They expect that 350 million will leave the countryside and move to cities in the near term. That is the more than the current population of the United States. It is an unprecedented movement of people never seen in the world’s history. If this can be accomplished without political or social disaster the economic benefits are beyond measure.

 (I could not post the video image so just click above)

This new city planning has aggressive Western architects salivating at their AutoCadd stations. Unstoppable growth, no planning commissions, not planning boards, no little-old-ladies at design review meetings berating you over fenestration details – I have died and gone to heaven.

There is no wrong or right in this. China faces unreal demographic changes and this is one way to anticipate the future. Sure there will be maintenance issues, utility issues, power supply and even short and long term health issues, but taking a fifteenth century economy into the twenty-first century in less than thirty years is difficult at best. But unlike many aging western economies they are trying.

Stay Tuned . . . . . . . .

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