New York: the city so nice, they built it twice. Yujiapu, a peninsula southeast of Beijing, aims to become China's Manhattan in a ten-year development project. (Photo/CFF)
China is notorious for large scale knockoffs. There's the amusement park in Shenzhen where you can take your photo beside a fake Taj Mahal. A tourist town is being built that will so closely copy the alpine village of Hallstatt that the mayor of the Austrian town has complained to the UN. And now, on a peninsula southeast of Beijing, the most ambitious knockoff of all is in the works: a financial center in the likeness and on the scale of Manhattan. Developer Vincent Lee wants to copy New York City -- literally, according to a report from the Atlantic.
The ten-year construction plan is to make the 3.86 sq km area of Yujiapu, the largest single financial center in the world. Yet two years into the plan Yujiapu is still a field of cranes, fenced along the perimeter and hazy behind the smog. The only thing that resembles New York City is a diorama in the lobby of Binhai New Area CBD Office, where bureaucrats like Vincent Lee of the Business Bureau are working to deliver on their ambitious promise of a financial center which will eventually encompass 9.5 million square meters of office space. Lee also says the area's flagship building is modeled after the Rockefeller Center.
Also planned are an urban park on a whale-shaped island; an underground strip of high-end stores; and China's first three-tier, underground train station, where bullet trains will shoot commuters off to Tianjin as well as Beijing. The local government has already invested 7.6 billion yuan (US$1.18 billion) eyeing Yujiapu's links to both China's capital and one of the country's fastest growing cities -- not to mention the proximity to Tianjin Port on the shore of the Bohai Bay, China's major northern port.
The city of Tianjin, a nearby boom town of almost eleven million people, is growing at a pace staggering even by modern Chinese standards. One of the city's huge skyscrapers is on its way to becoming the tallest building in China. Down at street level, the city center feels like a construction set: dusty, obstructed and deafeningly loud. While China has for decades sustained average annual growth rates of 10%, the provincial-level municipality of Tianjin last year reported a growth rate of 17.4%. Many predict that Tianjin will spread right into Beijing in a massive urban merger to rival the sprawls of Japan's megacities.
That a project on the scale of Yujiapu has raised few eyebrows thus far may be that it falls in a region where seemingly limitless sums of money are pumping.
Lee expects Yujiapu to quickly follow in the footsteps of Pudong, a former fishing village in Shanghai that exploded with growth in the nineties. However, there are hidden risks behind the project: much of the funding is borrowed, and recent reports of debt overload are raising red flags over China's most grandiose construction projects, many of which are financed by state-owned banks.