Zhengzhou, Henan, China (March 28, 2011): In December, London’s Daily Mail reported that the Zhengzhou New Area was China’s largest “Ghost City.” A visit to the Zhengzhou New Area indicates exactly the opposite. Chinese “Ghost Cities” are large areas of new development that are virtually unoccupied. The most famous example is Ordos, a new and reportedly empty city, built to replace an older city in Inner Mongolia.
Zhenghou is an urban area of approximately 2.5 million population and is the capital of Henan province. The Zhengzhou New Area is located in the northeastern quadrant of Zhengzhou. It is circular in design, with two parallel roads, high-rise condominium buildings on the inner ring and commercial buildings on the outer ring. The interior of the circle includes the Henan Arts Center and a skyscraper that is under construction. A new high speed rail station is under construction to serve the new Guangzhou to Beijing line. The station is to be one of the largest in Asia.
Our visit revealed anything but a Ghost City. Granted, no-one would mistake the traffic for Beijing Third Ring Road volumes, but virtually all of the parking spaces were taken and there was traffic on the streets (Figure 1). That ultimate indicator of Chinese urbanization, the availability of frequent taxicab service was well in evidence. Two of the city’s bus rapid transit lines serve the interior circle road, again indicating a substantial threshold of non-ghost urbanization.
There were people on the sidewalks, though not the numbers typical of an older, more dense section of a Chinese urban area (Figure 2). It was clear from the laundry hanging in glass enclosed patios that many of the condominiums were occupied, though it is to be expected that many would not be, given the Chinese propensity to invest in multiple residential properties (a tendency the central government seeks to curb). Many of the commercial skyscrapers were occupied, and some were still under construction. There are also shopping centers, small stores and fast food restaurants.
Zhengzhou New Area is intended by the developers to become the new central business district for Zhengzhou. There is much more planned than this first phase. Eventually, the Zhengzhou New Area is intended to cover 105 square kilometers (41 square miles), generally further to the northeast. City maps already show the planned street pattern, not unlike 19th century maps of some US cities.
In short, the Zhengzhou New Area is alive and not a Ghost City. It may well be that it took longer than expected for the place to come alive. But it is clear that the life of the Zhengzhou New Area began more than four months ago.