New Urbanism: An approach to Solve the Problem of Ghost Towns in China


New Urbanism

An approach to Solve the Problem of Ghost Towns in China

Lim Chu Hsien, Yale-NUS College ‘18

(Initially published in YNUJ Volume 1, 2016)


Besides facing increasing international pressure for sustainability, China is gradually heading towards a more sustainable framework of urban development due to the negative externalities produced by its own urbanization strategies. Coined as an urban pathology, ghost towns are one of the manifestations of such externalities that can no longer be ignored. Constructed on an unprecedented scale in terms of spatial size and quantity, these ghost towns remain extremely underutilized and contribute significantly towards China’s generation of waste products. Through the case study of Chenggong New Town in Kunming, I will seek to uncover crucial factors underlying the formation of such ghost towns and consequently, elucidate the pitfalls in China’s post-socialist urbanization strategies. I will proceed to examine China’s recent attempts of adapting New Urbanism, a popular Western urban design approach with a human-centric focus, to prevent the formation of ghost towns. This paper ultimately argues that although New Urbanism manages to introduce some features that promote liveability in urban spaces, its effectiveness in preventing the formation of ghost towns remains limited. For China to effectively address this predicament of ghost towns, New Urbanism must instead be complemented with strategic urban planning policies that take into account the heterogeneity of communities and the feasibility of implementation across various stakeholders.

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