China's unlivable cities: a warning to all

China's unlivable cities: a warning to all

Don't let this happen to your city!

If you want a taste of the nightmare that your city could become, look to China. Foreign Policy has an excellent article that ties together a lot of threads I have picked up over the last few months. To sum up, "For all their economic success, China's cities, with their lack of civil society, apocalyptic air pollution, snarling traffic, and suffocating state bureaucracy, are still terrible places to live."

 
China is what happens when industry is allowed to run the show. China's cities are a model of the perfect Libertarian society: freed from the constraints of a restrictive government, China's industries pollute the air, water, and land to a shocking extent. Without government intervention, everything becomes a commodity, including the people. The author describes "smog the color of gargled milk" in one city, and describes another as "a gray Manchurian industrial powerhouse."
 
This is what happens when a government gives free rein to business, without a thought for protecting its people. As a rule, you can either defend business or people, and if you throw all your weight behind business, you end up with cities where the average lifespan is 30, and food adulteration scandals (melamine in baby formula; "soy sauce" made from discarded human hair) are a daily occurrence.

One odd side effect of this human-unfriendly urban planning is alcohol consumption. When people are unhappy, they drink. And in China, people are drinking a lot. By the sounds of it, it's like the 50s in America over there, although the "three martini lunch" is more likely to involve beer  or sake than vodka.
 
The Communist Party, under the leadership of Mao Zedong, takes most of the credit for the awfulness of China's cities. But China's contemporary government holds a great deal of the blame as well. And here, China's people are hampered. China's internet is restricted, and its people's ability to protest is, shall we say, somewhat hampered. 
 
If I were a Chinese person writing this article in China, I could be jailed or sent to a labor camp for publishing it. In 2008, two women in their 70s were sentenced to a year of in a labor camp just for applying to protest in one of the government's designated Olympic protest zones. 
 
I believe we should let China's dystopic mega-cities lead the direction for our own cities. In every country across the world, they should serve as a model of How Not To Do It. And here's hoping that China gets free speech, basic human rights, and some decent urban planning restrictions some day soon.