Dongtan’s not working, and neither is much else in China’s new environmentalism

One of EcoLibertarian’s most steadily popular posts has been one from last April on Dongtan, one of China’s green “concept” cities. The place sounds like a nice idea, I wrote, but China seemed to envision it as a sort of non-working model, a massive subsidized eco-campus that didn’t function the way a real city does, with industry and commerce and everything:

So we’re mostly talking about a sort of Chinese version of Epcot Centre, the urbanological equivalent of a concept car or a campus, self-sustaining environmentally but not economically. Only in a controlled economy like China’s would such a thing be possible even as an experiment.

WorldChanging has followed up on the matter, tracking some Big Media coverage of Dongtan and some similar projects. They’re not working out so well.

Some of it’s a result of routine Chinese corruption and ineptitude. Newsweek:

The project appears to be a mess. Construction of the 400 houses is way behind schedule. The 42 that have been built still have no heat, electricity or running water. Walls are already cracking and moisture seeps through the ceilings. According to people who’ve worked on the project, many of the houses don’t adhere to the original specifications—meaning they could never achieve the energy savings they were meant to achieve. The biomass gasification facility meant to burn animal, human and agricultural waste, doesn’t work.

But there’s also a cultural problem, noted by the BBC. Dongtan in particular is being seen as a place where wealthy Shanghainese can get away from the polluted nastiness of the megalopolis on the Yangtze River, and where wealthier expat Chinese can keep pieds-à-terre:

But some observers, such as Professor Chen of Tongji University, think that the local planners are more concerned with raising the income and standard of living of the region than ensuring ecological development.

They say that the new ecologically-sound housing developments may not be affordable by locals and could become suburban housing for the rich.

Already many have been purchased by overseas Chinese.

Other data points: Beijing is bursting at the seams, despite the government’s effort to contain it, and 84 per cent of young Chinese people really, really want cars their government hopes they won’t buy.

Evidently the old industrialization policies have some inertia.

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