Fast Tracking Cities in China

700 mountains are being leveled to make way for a new city in China which will be known as Lanzhou New City. The vast demolition project which will clear and flatten an area ten square miles in size, adding increased pollution to an already heavily polluted area, is part of an ongoing rush to urbanization in China that does not pause to consider environmental consequences.

“This is the largest mountain-moving project ever in China. It shows China’s power,” worker Ye Xingwu told USA Today.

A multimillionaire named Yan Jiehe, the founder of China Pacific Construction Group, is behind the $3.5 billion project which is expected to produce a city in five years that Jiehe says will incorporate elements of Venice and Las Vegas.

China’s move toward urbanization is staggering by any accounts. The McKinsey Global Institute reports that China will have 221 cities with 1 million inhabitants each in 12 years, compared to just 35 cities of that size in Europe. It will have another 23 cities with more than 5 million people each. In 20 years, China’s cities will have added 350 million people–more than the entire population of the United States today. For the first time in January 2012, more Chinese people lived in urban than rural areas.

These city dwellers have triple the income of rural residents, and an increasingly consumerist lifestyle that has meant greater use of resources, car ownership, energy use and the pollution and waste that goes with it. Writes McKinsey: “The incremental growth alone in urban China’s consumption between 2008 and 2025 will amount to the creation of a new market the size of the German market in 2007.” The report calls for “concentrated urbanization” with efficient mass-transit and energy efficiency measures to stave off the crippling congestion, rampant pollution and water shortages that are likely to follow China’s relentless urban march.

In fact, the “Lanzhou New City” under construction is in direct response to the old Lanzhou, a city that represents all that is wrong with a poorly planned, heavily polluted urban China. Lanzhou in Northwest China has some of the worst pollution of any city in the world, with particulate matter—which can cause lung disease, asthma and heart disease—of 150 micrograms per cubic meter. The World Health Organization recommends no higher than 20 micrograms per cubic meter. During the winter when pollution levels are at their worst the haze is thick enough to block sunlight, shrouding the city in darkness. Drivers are required to not drive their cars one day a week to try to combat the smog, and road races have been cancelled because it’s too polluted for runners to breathe.

But new development in China is proceeding without taking note of the problems of the past. Lanzhou New City was underway before an environmental impact assessment report was even approved.