Citizens and their role in smart city development have been resonating with me this week. In part, due to some of the highlighted news stories we have selected for you, but also because of a most fascinating book I’m currently reading entitled The Ghost Cities of China by Wade Shepard.
My sons see this as yet another tome in what they describe as my Armageddon reading: you know, the future that spells the end of the Human Race as we know it, the type of thing that Elon Musk keeps warning us about.
Shepard’ s book details China’s urbanisation building programme, which apparently between now and 2030 will see its urban population hit over one billion. However right now, hundreds of these newly built urban areas stand with great swathes totally empty, waiting to come to life.
Amongst other things, the book talks about the trend for existing cities to create shiny new versions of themselves, manifesting a twin-city paradigm that acts as a safety valve to the over-population, congestion and urban mess of the old town. Shanghai, for example, has Pudong, Kunming has Chenggong and Zhengzhou has Zhengdong.
One of the justifications for the biblical scale of city building in China is to provide accommodation for the millions of rural migrants pouring into the cities. While this is true of some new city projects, it is not so for Zhengdon.
According to Shepard, nearly 50 per cent of those looking for new homes in China are upwardly mobile, existing city dwellers looking to upscale. Cities like Zhengdon are perfect with their luxo apartments, European style boulevards, technology centres, golf clubs, universities, museums and opera houses.
The author points out that with these new cities like Zhengdon the groundwork for parallel migration has been set. The ‘haves’ will escape the crowded old cities with its crumbling infrastructure and congestion, while the ‘have-nots’ comprising the urban working class and rural migrants remain and flood into the old.
Each country has its own response to growing population and urban living. China can build new gleaming statement cities, and move people into them at will. America and Europe can’t. But one thing that all countries have facing them is how the rich and poor will fare in this so-called new landscape of innovation and opportunity.