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China’s Cities: Coming Out At The Wrong End of History?

Several days ago I attended Urbancamp Beijing, hosted by Orange Labs in Beijing.

The purpose of the event was to explore how cities of the not-too-distant future will look like; the theme was the Chinese City 2.0. Because China is growing so rapidly in this area, it has become a sociologist’s paradise for study. Neville Mars of the Dynamic City Foundation is a Beijing-based architect who is actively studying this field, and will come out shortly with an 800-page book on the subject in January.

His presentation was presented in a very interesting and chaotic manner, as if to reflect the chaotic development of the subject he covers. He alluded to how rampant growth in China was being fostered by the government, and then in most cases, the government took over development from the artistic groups.

Another group which is studying Chinese urban growth is the Urban Forum, which is studying the effects of China’s urban development. A Chinese language magazine, Urban China, is now covering China’s development, and a speaker unveiled plans for a web version of the magazine for global distribution.

Shang Dan of Orange Labs Beijing provided a fascinating report on car clubs in China, which bring together car owners to join in social activities. Since Chinese treat cars mainly as symbols of social rank and status, it is natural for them to research the car clubs before buying the model they want. This fits well into the city landscape well because it hard to find like-minded people in a literally new city, and the car club provides a welcome activity club for the new car-owner.

I wonder what kind of car club there is for owners of black Audi A6s? (If you have lived in China for a while, you’ll get this joke.)

Kenneth Fields of Peking University spoke about how to use tagging for location data, and City8 introduced their 3D mapping software for cities.

The afternoon discussion, which was a free discussion, was about the different themes in the definitions of place and city.

One subject which was not clear to me was what is the definition of city where people spend more and more time online on the Internet? Most of us spend a good part of the day jacked into the Internet; is it really important to have cities anymore? Has the city become a state of mind instead of a physical place? When pollution and hydrocarbons and global warming become ever greater issues, why bother with physical cities anyway? What are online and offline communities, and how do they map to each other?

Are Chinese developers and the Chinese government going exactly contrary to development trends by developing physical urban cities now, when they are falling into discredit?

These are interesting questions which need to be explored further.




9 Responses to “China’s Cities: Coming Out At The Wrong End of History?”

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