Monday, December 29, 2008

An Abandoned Village of Blueprinted Excess



It was about two weeks ago that I was riding a bike (which was not mine, but was nevertheless (and continues to be) at my disposal; this being a detail which is of no relevance aside from justifying my use of the indefinite article rather than the possessive pronoun) through Tangshan’s Nanhu Gongyuan (“South Lake Public Park”) when I happened upon what appeared to be the remnants of a suburban housing development. As I mentioned before, I am fairly certain that the majority of Tangshan’s urban residents live in one of the many six-story apartment complexes or one of the newer high rise buildings. Then there are the one-floor bungalows made of brick and smell of burning coal that comprise the slums that are littered about the city. What I didn’t expect to see was a neighborhood of tract housing (or “McMansions” if you will) nestled in between the park and Tangshan’s urban sprawl; one wonders if it could factually be termed as “suburban” given its proximity to the city’s center, but that is really none of my concern (which is a lie, as I am obviously preoccupied with semantics).
In any case, the entire community was about the size of your average Wal-Mart, perhaps half-again, and all of the homes were two stories, though many of them were merely concrete skeletons—concrete framework seeming to be the standard for all architecture out here. The roads were unpaved, overgrown with brush and littered with debris; it looked like the place had been sitting there for years (though it was probably much less). Some homes had a lot of work done on them; one in particular had columns of affected Roman design at the front doors, and upon further (and likely illegal) investigation of the interior was revealed to have concave ceilings with gold-painted moldings and what I can only describe as a large marble wall sculpture depicting nubile celestials from the Renaissance-era (art history majors, feel free provide me with the correct terminology). Now this would all seem like a tragic waste of resources to have all this opulence go unappreciated by an upper-middle class Chinese family, but it was somewhat heartening to see that one of the upstairs rooms had at least been occupied, as evidenced by a pile of matted down straw in the corner.
That being said, the neighborhood was not completely uninhabited, and I’m not just talking about squatters and transients. There were actually two or three homes that were actually (or mostly) completed and you could see that people were living in them; the telltale signs of life being clothing left out to dry and, well a car in the driveway is a pretty good indicator as well. I could see through a window that a TV was turned on in a half-finished house (as in one half of the house was completely built while the other was filled with bricks and rubble). I was not the only non-resident either; there was particularly a lot of activity on the neighborhood’s northern border which was partly separated from the slums by what would have been an artificial pond had it ever been filled with water. The other part was a small open square with a few empty shop fronts that would have likely become a strip mall and perhaps served as a buffer zone between the slums and the suburb. This place had now become an area of recreation for the local elderly residents, which mostly consisted of various stretching exercises performed in mid-conversation with each other. There were slums to the south and west of the neighborhood as well, separated by an open field and a similarly uncompleted apartment complex respectively. It begs the question of what exactly the developers had to clear to set up in this location.
Regardless, it doesn’t take much to figure out why this project failed; in a country where 800 million people are still living in rural poverty, and to which the government’s response is to “urbanize” said demographic—as in relocate to the cities where they can lay down the plow and pick up the scales, so to speak—it simply isn’t very practical to have a single family living in a four or five bedroom house with Roman columns and domed ceilings, overindulgent though it may be.

Some more pictures I took.

1 comment:

Steve said...

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