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The Concrete Dragon: China's Urban Revolution and What It Means for the Worldby Thomas J. Campanella
Synopses & Reviews
In the early 1980s, China launched the greatest building boom in human history, beginning a period of wholesale construction and destruction unlike anything the world has ever seen. There were fewer than 200 cities in China in the late 1970s; today there are nearly 700. While the United States has 9 cities with more than a million residents, China now has 102 such cities. And in a single decade more Chinese families have been displaced by redevelopment than by 30 years of urban renewal in the United States. The scale of this urban revolution is breathtaking: China is now home to the largest malls on earth, the biggest airport, many of the planet's tallest buildings and longest bridges, the biggest gated community, and even the world's largest skateboard park. China's rich urban architectural legacy is being sacrificed to make way for icons of progress and modernity.
The Concrete Dragon examines the forces behind this urban revolution and traces both the historical precedents and the increasingly globalized information, ideas, and trends that have combined to create a new Chinese landscape. Of course, this new urban day is not without costs. China's roaring economy is stoked by the labor of millions of men and women from rural provinces who flock to the booming coastal cities in search of work, and the toll on the environment, in China and around the world, is high. The Concrete Dragon provides a timely, critical overview of China's present as well as a comparison to previous periods of rapid urbanization elsewhere in the world — especially that of the United States, a nation that once itself set global records for the speed and scale of its urban ambitions.
"Urban planning professor Campanella (of the University of North Carolina and Harvard's Graduate School of Design) presents an overview of today's China, which has recently grown so fast and so lavishly that its scope is hard to comprehend. The geography is vast, and so are statistics that now define it. With a huge rural-to-urban migration over the last quarter century, dozens of megacities-'the primary spatial forms of the new global economy'-have cropped up over natural and man-made obstacles, boasting a culture of skyscraper one-upsmanship, a passionate embrace of foreign architecture and sports (golf, skateboarding), a legion of theme parks featuring scale models of Chinese and world-famous landscapes (like the U.S. Capitol Building), and the relentless reinvention of ancient metropolises. Politics, capitalism, epic road-building, spiraling bridges and, now, pre-Olympic commotion mix with surprising effects; once-ubiquitous bicycles are replaced by automobiles; everywhere there is domicide, the destruction of long-time residences; and traditional Chinese culture in decline: 'Even as Beijing erects singular architectural monuments to create a definitive identity for itself, it has largely rubbed out... what gave the city such unique color, richness, and character.' A fascinating read, this current-events primer could very well be a crash course in the world's future." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Book News Annotation:
The current "Urban Revolution" in China over the last twenty years is observed by Campanella (U. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill), who asserts that these sudden paradigm shifts toward Westernization may be more costly than originally thought. Citing the widening gap between the upper and lower classes as a galvanizing point, the author provides a cautionary tale where the Chinese countrysides are abandoned in favor of the rolling economies in the large cities. Written from the point of view of urban planning, this book may also appeal to general audiences as well. Annotation ©2008 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
China is the most rapidly urbanizing nation in the world, with an urban population that may well reach one billion within a generation. Over the past 25 years, surging economic growth has propelled a construction boom unlike anything the world has ever seen, radically transforming both city and countryside in its wake. The speed and scale of China's urban revolution challenges nearly all our expectations about architecture, urbanism and city planning. China's ambition to be a major player on the global stage is written on the skylines of every major city. This is a nation on the rise, and it is building for the record books.
China is now home to some of the world's tallest skyscrapers and biggest shopping malls; the longest bridges and largest airport; the most expansive theme parks and gated communities and even the world's largest skateboard park. And by 2020 China's national network of expressways will exceed in length even the American interstate highway system. China's construction industry, employing a workforce equal to the population of California, has been erecting billions of square feet of housing and office space every year. But such extensive development has also meant demolition on a scale unprecedented in the peacetime history of the world. Nearly all of Beijing's centuries-old cityscape has been bulldozed in recent years, and redevelopment in Shanghai has displaced more families than 30 years of urban renewal in the United States. China's cities are also rapidly sprawling across the landscape, churning precious farmland into a landscape of superblock housing estates and single-family subdivisions laced with highways and big-box malls. In a mere generation, China's cities have undergone a metamorphosis that took 150 years to complete in the United States.
The Concrete Dragon: China's Urban Revolution and What it Means for the World sheds light on this extraordinary chapter in world urban history. The book surveys the driving forces behind the great Chinese building boom, traces the historical precedents and global flows of ideas and information that are fusing to create a bold new Chinese cityscape, and considers the social and environmental impacts of China's urban future. The Concrete Dragon provides a critical overview of contemporary Chinese urbanization in light of both China's past as well as earlier episodes of rapid urban development elsewhere in the world especially that of the United States, a nation that itself once set global records for the speed and scale of its urban ambitions.
About the Author
Thomas J. Campanella is associate professor of urban planning at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a visiting lecturer at Nanjing University's Graduate School of Architecture. He holds a Ph.D in urban studies and planning from MIT and a masters degree in landscape architecture from Cornell. Campanella has consulted on urban design and planning projects in China, South Korea, Hong Kong, Thailand, Japan and the United States, and serves on the town planning board of Hillsborough, North Carolina. He and his wife, Wu Wei — an architect who specializes in energy-efficient lighting design — split their time between Nanjing, China and Hillsborough, where they completed an award-winning restoration of a 240 year-old house.
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