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Book explores the failed promise of a Chinese ‘eco-city’

A farmer walks on wetlands that were to become Dongtan Eco-City, in 2008. The project near Shanghai was derailed by corruption, engineering flaws and violations of land-use regulations. (NIR ELIAS/Reuters/Landov)

Dongtan was envisioned as a futuristic eco-city with 500,000 residents on Chongming Island near Shanghai. Jan McGirk writes for Chinadialogue that a recently published book, Fantasy Islands by Julie Sze, examines why this and similar projects failed.

Dongtan was supposed to have been complete by the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, the article says. Planners boasted that the zero-emission city would ban vehicles and recycle water. It was to be surrounded by lush forests, farms and golf courses. The ambitious plan was eventually abandoned amid bribery and fraud charges. Other eco-cities linked to a key Shanghai official who was arrested also stalled.

Sze, a professor and director of American Studies at the University of California, Davis, writes that corruption was one of many setbacks. Developers failed to comply with a land-use regulation that required an equally sized parcel to be reclaimed for farming. Meanwhile, major engineering firms involved in the project did not take responsibility for flawed designs, she writes in the book. 


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