Saturday, June 26, 2010

Where to house 700 million farmers...

On relatively little arable land.  I remember a line from Fox Butterfield's "Alive in a Bitter Sea", which I read many years ago.  It opened my eyes to the Great Leap Forward and how it devastated China.

Anyhoo, the factoid was something like "in the good farmland of China, there is on average a village of 1500 every mile." I think I recall it accurately (I hope) because I have ever since imagined a town the size of Chrisman (~1000) here at my house and another at the intersections a mile each way.

Obviously much of the housing boom in China has been for farmers, and here is what they got.

Scott Sumner wonders what it means.
We normally think of the urban Chinese as the more affluent and the rural Chinese as being relatively poor.  That’s true on average, but there are far more exceptions than you’d think.  I suppose nobody’s surprised to see examples of poor migrant workers in the cities, but consider this example:
these are farmers houses that stretch for about 100 miles between Hangzhou and Shanghai. If youve seen
them in person the sheer scale of the devlopment is amazing, it basically looks like one vast urban suburb rather than
countryside. It took me over 2 hrs to get through it by train.

All the houses have steep roofs, turrets, towers and even onion domes, by the thousand. Its one of the most amazing ‘urban’
things Ive seen – seriously if anyones in Shanghai, take the train to Hangzhou and look out of your right window…

Theyre all built for free by the progressive local councils:
To see what he is talking about you need to open this link and scroll down to post#49.  Then look at the pictures.  One of them nearly blew me away.  BTW, I have doubts about the accuracy of the statement that all those houses are “built for free.”  I don’t even know what that means.  But I did the Shanghai to Hangzhou drive in 2001, and I could see the beginnings of this amazing (appalling?) landscape beginning to take shape.  As you look at the pictures toward the bottom of post #49, keep in mind you are looking at rural China.
But it gets even weirder.  If you scroll down to post #55 of the same link you will see a Jetson-style rendering of a proposed “farmers apartment” building that is nearly the size of the Empire State building—proposed for a site in rural China.  You’re probably thinking “Sure, the Chinese love those gee-wiz drawings, but how many actually get built?  If you open up this link (post #255), you’ll see that the project is already mostly built.  Question:  Is there anywhere else in the world where a 1076-foot skyscraper would be built for “farmers” and located not in a city, but in the “countryside?”
Yes, I understand that Huaxi is the richest village in China, and is hardly typical.  But I also think that there is far more wealth being accumulated in the rural parts of eastern China than many people realize.
When I used to hear about 800 million “rural Chinese” I pictured dusty little villages in western China.  I may need to re-adjust my mental images. [More]
We simply may not be able to imagine the population density in the habitable part of China. But even weirder for me is trying to imagine how they will migrate more of those people to urban centers as farming consolidates.

Maybe they will be able to keep many on tiny farms in this new housing, but I would think the inefficiency of that will win out in the end.  My guess these new houses will end up containing a lot of old retired people.

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