Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Empty Cities

Around the world, millions upon millions of people live without adequate shelter. Many are homeless and sleep on the streets at night. Some even die of exposure. Millions more live in substandard housing, including in the United States. Many of these homes are dangerous fire hazards, and lack even basic utilities. Not long ago, I read Mike Davis' book, Planet of Slums.

Meanwhile, thanks to the housing bubble, entire cities sit empty and abandoned. Yes, Capitalism surely is the best economic system we can possibly creeate:

These amazing satellite images show sprawling cities built in remote parts of China that have been left completely abandoned, sometimes years after their construction.

Elaborate public buildings and open spaces are completely unused, with the exception of a few government vehicles near communist authority offices.

Some estimates put the number of empty homes at as many as 64 million, with up to 20 new cities being built every year in the country's vast swathes of free land.

The photographs have emerged as a Chinese government think tank warns that the country's real estate bubble is getting worse, with property prices in major cities overvalued by as much as 70 per cent.

Meanwhile In Spain:

The collapse of Spain's booming housing market has left near-empty or abandoned residential development across the country.

Each failed development represents a loss for the banking sector, which admits to $240 billion of problematic exposure and is probably exposed to more. As home prices keep falling and unemployment soars, banks will face further writedowns.

Giant ghost towns like Valdeluz and Sesena have been profiled in the New York Times and the Guardian.

Meanwhile, back in China, ridiculous projects are being built by the government, just to stimulate growth. Perhaps the most ridiculous example yet crossed my desk last week, and that's saying a lot. The Hangzhou Urban Planning Bureau (i.e. government officials needing to meet the 'growth' targets by the central govenment in Beijing) has announced the China Comic and Animation Museum. I'm sure the need for this building was overwhelming. This ridculous monstrosity is 32,00 square meteres shaped like eight speech balloons (!!!):

The 32,000 sq m is divided into eight volumes which are interconnected, allowing for a circular visit of the entire program. Services such as the lobby, education centre, three theatres/cinemas with in total 1,111 seats and a comic book library occupy each their own balloon. If two balloons touch in the interior a large opening allows access and views in between the volumes. The balloon shape allows for supple exhibitions, the permanent collection is presented in a chronological spiral whereas the temporary exhibition hall offers total flexibility.

Seriously, I think they are literally running out of themes to build museums too. I can't wait for the Pudong Museum Museum - a museum dedicated to museums. What about the Harbin noodle museum shaped like a bowl of noodles (note: this would not surprise me in the slightest). Can there be a more ridiculous indictment for our growth-for-the-sake-of growth capitalist economy than this?

Yep, billions of people in developing countries lack adequate shelter, entire cities lay abandoned in Europe and China, thirty percent of Detroit is being bulldozed, and the world's architects are fixating on building ridiculous white elephants in China and mile-high skyscrapers in Dubai. You'd never suspect the world is running out of food, water and fossil fuels would you?

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