Construction at Tianducheng, eastern China, began in 2007.
Great things were envisioned for the new city: large boulevards, tree-lined streets, cafes and restaurants all around.
In essence, Tianducheng was supposed to ooze a European style, that of Paris, to be more precise, with a mock Eiffel Tower at its centre.
But things didn’t exactly go to plan. Few people took up the offer of moving to the ‘Paris of the East’ when it opened.
By 2013, it was estimated just 2,000 people were living in a city which could accommodate more than 10,000.
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Today, the picture is slightly different. Tianducheng has expanded several times and is now home to around 30,000 people.
While that figure is much larger than before, given its size and potential, many still say the city still gives off the feel of being abandoned.
Jarryd Salem, who previously visited the city, summed up his few days spent there in a piece for News.com.au, writing: “The atmosphere has become stranger and more complex […] Tianducheng is an urban development that has failed spectacularly.”
Eerie is the word that sums up Tianducheng. Photos show an almost exact replica of Paris but on a far smaller scale.
You can walk down the Champs Elysées, a street flanked by characteristically French buildings. You might choose to take a rest in the Luxembourg Gardens and marvel at the replica fountain. You can even get up close and personal with the mock Eiffel Tower, around a third of the size of the real thing, which sits at the centre of a complex maze of gardens.
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Tianducheng is surrounded by industrial and commercial cities, perhaps explaining why many have opted to skip out on living there.
There is another issue: because of the industry visitors have reported finding themselves enveloped in thick clouds of smog from neighbouring districts.
Things are changing, however. As more people move in, Beijing is pumping money into the city in order to make it more liveable.
Last year, Huangheshan station on Line 3 of Hangzhou Metro serving Tianducheng opened, meaning people can now easily travel back and forth between the capital of China’s Zhejiang province.
Up and down China’s east coast stand cities like Tianducheng. They have been built in preparation for the inevitable population crisis that experts say will soon hit the country of 1.5 billion people — although this year its population declined for the first time in decades.
Hundreds of settlements remain sparse of people or number well below official estimates.
They have become known as China’s “under-occupied developments”, planned towns and cities rapidly built without any guaranteed occupants.
There are many reasons for this. Wade Shepard, author of Ghost Cities of China: The Story of Cities Without People in the World’s Most Populated Country, says one factor is China’s policy of ‘economically affordable housing’.
Here, homes must be lived in by the owner and cannot be bought and sold as an investment, with developers only permitted to sell “economically affordable housing” at five percent over the cost of construction, protecting buyers but dissuading investors.
Cities like Tianducheng do seem to be growing in size and popularity. But for now, many, including Tianducheng, remain shells of their imagined selves.
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