Why Are China's Cities So Horribly Polluted?
Ordos, Linyi, Zhengzhou and Kunming all have one thing in common: they are attempting to create new city districts with a pleasant living environment. This brings us to a conundrum that puzzles most outside visitors to China’s cities. Even allowing for China’s enormous population and still-moderate level of economic development, why are so many Chinese cities so horrible? And why do they all look the same?
The typical Chinese city is grey, ugly and congested. It has pointlessly wide roads and squares, and functional, boxy buildings clad in grimy concrete or dirty white tiles. The old parts of town have been demolished, save perhaps for a solitary pagoda, rebuilt and sucked dry of its historical sap. Its roads are jammed, the air filthy, the streets often unwalkable. Pavements and public entrances are blocked by private vehicles, whose owners scream abuse at cyclists and pedestrians for getting in their way. It is, in short, anything but ‘liveable’.
China’s leaders are not totally unaware of this depressing fact. In 2007, Qiu Baoxing, then Vice-minister of construction, launched a tirade against the dreary monotony of China’s urban landscape. He lambasted local officials for the ‘senseless’ destruction of the country’s architectural and cultural heritage as China pursues its headlong rush towards modernisation. Lamenting the ugly, uniform buildings casually erected on old temples and ancient streets, he put his finger on the most depressing aspect of modern Chinese urbanism. ‘It is like having a thousand cities with the same appearance’, he complained.
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