China has built a string of new cities, ostensibly to house the rural poor who will be moved into cities in the next decade.

China City Bridge

Photo by Caemmerer

Not waiting for those people to over-populate and add to the slums of existing cities, China has taken a preventative measure of building whole new cities to house them.

But can you take the man/woman out of the country without taking the country out of the man/woman?

Where are the plans for people to be acclimatized to a whole new way of life, with new relationships, technology, work, transportation, financial transactions – not to mention the basics of daily life – accessing water, food, clothing, furniture?

This pre-built city approach appears to be a form of modern day colonization, where the state in China will just transport people where they don’t want them into where the state thinks they should be. To the modern eye, this appears to be a gift of beneficence – but to the Integral City eye, such forced migrations will never work, without the commensurate attention and resources supplied for cultural and social integration.

That cultural and social integration begins with the intention and attention shared by the individuals, families, work groups, education, health and community services who populate cities. They should be the co-contributors, co-designers and inhabitants who start with the desire to move; the connections that matter; and the plan to make it happen. When consciousness and culture are willing participants in the design of the city, people will “build the bridge by walking on it (1)”.

When someone else builds the bridge without attention to those who will walk on it, it may never cross the river in the right place.

I for one am extremely suspicious of the ready made “bridges” (aka new cities) where it appears you can just span the river and expect people to cross and pay the bridge toll!!


(1) An expression coined by Paulo Freire about his work in developing countries.


This is part of a series of blogs on China’s empty cities that triggered a series of Integral City thought capsules and thought experiments. See:

A City Without People is not a City 

Building a