Surreal Estate

Apocalypse, Money, Mass Housing

They are dream-like towns with everything you could wish for. But the squares wait for people to gather, no cars follow the carefully posted road signs and no bicycles ride the bike lanes.

These “ghost cities” form perfect, dead artificial landscapes- just looking at them from Google streetview sends chills down the spine- as if someone had stopped time and drawn a city while you weren't looking. They could be the perfect place to settle and raise a family, but no one is willing to do it.

Ireland 021People’s real housing needs are often ignored while governments "boost economic growth" by allowing construction companies and investors to build block after block of apartments. But little is done to blow life into these cities, so speculators soon arrive, sniffing for an opportunity to profit from every inch of land. Buying a penthouse, a whole building or just a studio in a new city is a cheap investment that will surely shoot up when the city is alive. Ghost cities are what happen when these expectations are not fulfilled.

If you live in Ordos, Inner Mongolia, China, you might be surprised to find that you live in the wrong one. The brand new City of Ordos, thirty kilometres away from the original Ordos, was built to host one million people by the Chinese Government. However, there are few signs of life. $5 billion worth of abandoned public buildings and an empty 29,000-square-foot museum complete this real estate aberration.

Roads lead to an empty horizon where crane silhouettes are sketched against the sky. The buildings show what architecture is like when economic profit guides design: the building site is used as efficiently as possible, and identical skyscrapers are placed one after the other, ready to be sold.

Ordos is an absurdist example of growth for the sake of growth. China’s skyrocketing GDP has been driven by the country’s huge investments, including those in construction. These have worked: China now has the second largest GDP in the world, and has been having record GDP growth rates for years. However, while these figures might look good on a macroeconomic level, they are raising several critical environmental and social issues.

Ordos 021The spectre of real-state speculation, also found in Spain (the infamous El Pocero, a 5.000-house city practically unoccupied for five years) and Ireland, has made its way to Africa as well. 

In Angola, Nova Cidade do Kilamba was built in just three years and designed to host half a million people, but the houses’ prices are too high for most people in the country, considering that two-thirds of Angolans already live with less than $2 dollars per day. One year after the first 2,800 houses were put on sale, only 220 had been sold. Four primary schools were inaugurated and fully equipped last February, but their students come from other areas.

Kilamba-011The Nova Cidade do Kilamba project was funded by China International Trust and Investment Corporation, a state-owned investment company, which means that the company uses sovereign wealth from the Chinese Government. This organization is usually involved in assuring energy supplies for the country, and Kilamba is no exception:  the city’s construction was financed with a credit fund in exchange for Angolan oil.

It's a win-win situation for both countries, but does little for ordinary Angolans, whose housing needs go unmet. The Nova Cidade do Kilamba provides no escape from the chaotic slums that reign in Luanda, the nation's capital.


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