The Mystery of Ghost Cities
Every now and then, the press publishes stories about the “ghost cities” of China. I have been in some of the areas where there are amazing building projects, but the number of residents is very low. If you watch the video below, you get some idea.
In my first semester in China, in the city of Shaoxing, we became curious about some buildings. A group of Aussie ESL teachers when for a nighttime cruise on one of the canals around the city. It was indeed a spectacular tour, though we knew little. We could see interesting buildings, fantastic lighting, people in the parks in the parks beside the waterway.
It was when we came to an area where there were quite a number of high rise accommodation blocks. They were probably around 50 stories high, and few appeared to be inhabited. Only a few had lights on. We were told they were new and not many folk had moved in. This was in 2008!
No Tenants. No Need.
It was some years later, when talking with one of my former students that I learned more about the situation. She announced that she had just bought a new apartment. I asked if she was going to live in it or find tenants. The answer was “neither”. It was an “investment” and there was no need to get tenants. “Having tenants mean that the owner has expenses for maintenance,” she said.
Later, when visiting China for her wedding, she arranged for me to stay in one of her apartments, that from time to time staff stayed. It was in a huge complex of around 8 buildings – all 52 stories high. I would have thought I would see other people – but in the building I was in, I never saw any people coming or going. It was as if I was the only resident. Spooky.
Vacant Shopping Centres
Near most of the unit blocks, there is bound to be a shopping centre. If there were residents, they would need a local shopping venue. But just as the accommodation has no one (or very few) the shopping centres have no shops. There is the occasional shop – possibly on no or low rent, designed to make the shopping centre look active. However, in a place with space for 50 or more shops, with just a couple operating, you can imagine they are not reaping heaps of financial reward.
So what is the future of these places? No one knows. There are huge debts associated with these properties, and with no tenants there is no return. Watch and wait to see what happens.