To understand the forces shaping Ordos, one must also look beyond the empty towers built on debt and for speculation and consider the role of the automobile, both in terms of an industry and as an individual status symbol.
For the first issue of Portal 9 – a Beirut-based journal focused on cities in Arab countries – Bert de Muynck/MovingCities & Danish anthropologist Michael Ulfstjerne co-authored an essay on the construction and car culture in Ordos 鄂尔多斯.
In Ordos: A Chinese City Constructed in the Fast Lane we went beyond the bubble and the emptiness and looked at vehicular animism as a method to analyse this metropolis and analyse the city as a paradoxical combination of ghost town and boom town.
About Portal 9 Journal
As a journal of stories and critical writing about urbanism and the city, Portal 9 blends creative writing, photography, and personal essays with academic scholarship, perceptive journalism, and cultural critiques. Published by Solidere Management Services, the Lebanese Company for the Development and Reconstruction of the Beirut Central District, Portal 9 is issued in Beirut and published twice yearly in English and Arabic editions. Each issue focuses on a unique theme. The journal addresses the need for a conscientious debate about architecture, planning, culture, and society in urban contexts across the Middle East and the rest of the world.
About a year ago, when we were approached by Portal 9 with the request to contribute with an article on the urban development of the city of Ordos 鄂尔多斯, we were a bit hesitant to put our ideas forward.
What more could we contribute to the plethora of articles that have described this city as a city of “monumental, neo-Mongolian sculptures, empty plazas and hulking concrete shells” while “cranes sit idle over unfinished skyscrapers and migrant workers are fleeing.” [in Reuters, 2 Dec 2011] or in terms of “glittering high-rise buildings and grand government projects [that] are skirted on all sides by smooth unblemished pavement and endless rows of modern street lamps. There’s only one problem … it’s practically uninhabited.” [in Google Sightseeing, 7 Sep 2010].
With this in mind, we contacted Michael Ulfstjerne [Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Cross Cultural & Regional Studies, Copenhagen University] who has been researching the city and its culture during the past few years. For several months we emailed back-and-forward so to sharpen our ideas on a city that is notorious for its emptiness.
During this process Todd Reisz, the academic writing editor for Portal 9 Journal, has been instrumental in questioning our observations, analysis, contacting Iwan Baan for a photographic contribution and, finally putting the essay out in print.
Portal 9’s first issue is centred around the idea of the ‘The Imagined‘.
In Ordos: A Chinese City Constructed in the Fast Lane we portray Ordos 鄂尔多斯 as a city balancing between a boom and a bust. It is a real city, but also an imagined one.
Extract from Ordos: A Chinese City Constructed in the Fast Lane URBANOGRAPHY
News reporters have arrived in the city in their quest to position Kangbashi as a negative example, if not a warning, of the dangers of rapid urbanization in China. This district, so it seems, is condemned to receive journalists that marvel about and condemn its seemingly megalomaniac emptiness. “Kangbashibashers,” as the critics can be called, have portrayed Ordos’s ambitions as flawed, ridiculing Kangbashi New District as China’s exemplary ghost city.
Ordos is dispersed, spacious, and large; its wide avenues invite, if not require, residents to own automobiles. And residents have accepted the invitation quickly.
For Ordos, it has been a rough transition from actual to measured horsepower. Few residents seem to have much experience in driving, or riding in, automobiles. Seat belts are rarely used. Some drivers acquire small plastic devices that they plug into the seat belt buckle to disengage the safety alarm without having to fasten up.
Car frenzy in Ordos is inescapable. Not only does the automobile dominate the landscape and everyday discourse, but it also steers the development of local industries, influences business endeavours, and delivers personal gratification.
Ordos’s new and empty district could be proof that a place can be built for profit, not people. Fated to partake in China’s housing bubble, Ordos exists as a paradoxical combination of ghost town and boom town, built on the extraction of coal.
- Read full article in Portal 9 Journal – issue #1 THE IMAGINED, Autumn 2012
URBANOGRAPHY | Michael Ulfstjerne & Bert de Muynck
Ordos: A Chinese City Constructed in the Fast Lane
China’s new city Ordos is regularly described as a “ghost town”,
but the forces behind the city go beyond images of vacant towers.