Kangbashi thrives despite perceptions

Updated: 2012-12-24 19:59

By Wang Kaihao (chinadaily.com.cn)

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Few people were on the sidewalks, but the supermarkets and a big food court were full in Kangbashi New Area over the weekend after a heavy snowfall.

The district is in Ordos, in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region. Ordos is one of the country's wealthiest cities, which boomed in 2008 with numerous residential communities. But Kangbashi gained worldwide notoriety in 2010 after it was dubbed by Time magazine as "a modern ghost town."

Kangbashi became the focus of media attention again on Dec 21, when some Internet media reported that the promised local government sponsorship for local stores had fallen through.

"The report is one-sided," said Chai Jiliang, chief publicity officer of Kangbashi, in his first interview after assuming his position. "It is true that we have changed the original policy, but the reporter did not come to us to ask why."

He said that the government in 2010 gave over 200 store owners a total subsidy of 23 million yuan ($3.7 million) to encourage more business, but the landlord of the properties then raised the rents.

Meanwhile, the government has spent 100 million yuan ($16 million) renting and refurbishing an office building to build a food court, where more than 400 booths are provided for free. Chai said this hidden subsidy will also help level the rent in other shopping areas in Kangbashi.

Chai acknowledged that the public is often confused by the area's empty sidewalks. But he said there are many public institutions, including a museum, a library, and a theater, along the key roads. Each residential community has its own independent living quarters with service facilities, and the government provides free bus service within the district.

"So, why do local residents who mostly own private cars and have convenient public transportation have to walk on the streets if there are no major public events?" he said.

Chai, also former chief of the district's construction bureau, said the idea of urban design of Kangbashi might be "too advanced" in China, as people have become used to bustling metropolises with large populations.

According to the local government, Kangbashi has 72,000 registered residents in 2012, and the population will surpass 100,000 in summer, the peak tourism season.

"When the construction of Kangbashi began in 2006, we planned to have a town with 300,000 residents by the end of 2020, but it seems that the media don't have that much patience," Chai said.

Unlike many Chinese cities' new urban areas, which were constructed on the outskirts of old towns, Kangbashi was 23 km from Dongsheng, the downtown area of Ordos. Kangbashi and Dongsheng are connected by a highway, and half of the municipal government institutions have moved into the new area.

"Kangbashi is a new small city rather than a simple residential community. You can never build a city overnight," Cai said.