Gongshan 2121: A City Not Dammed

The Ecotopia 2121 project details the futures of 100 cities across the globe as though they've somehow overcome all social and environmental problems to become super-ecofriendly. This week we highlight the future of Gongshan, China.

Gongshan 2121


The Salween River valley in China is a landscape of rare beauty, often called the Grand Canyon of the East. It is the last large free-flowing river in China; all the others have been dammed, diverted or disappeared into dryness. The Salween begins on the Tibetan plateau and winds through China, then Burma, then along the Thai border, then into Burma again before ending in an estuary on the Andaman Sea. Along its banks are five-million people, many of whom are subsistence farmers who depend on the river’s water and its fish.

Nowadays, as China proposes a series of dams upon the river, the people near the Salween know that the river could soon be forever changed. They also fear a huge disaster if a dam breaks during an earthquake or a flood. For these reasons, and due to difficult negotiations with Burma and Thailand down-river, the dams have been put on hold -- for now.

Let’s fast-forward to next century. On the first day of January 2121, the residents of Gongshan city are told to evacuate their homes and leave immediately. The dam project has finally begun and their small city is to be submerged. At first, they refuse to budge. They were due to meet with lawyers on January 2nd to map out a way to stop the dam. It seems the evictions were begun early in order to preempt the meeting. Meanwhile, construction of the dam begins upriver.

For one year, the residents refuse to leave their homes; afraid they’ll be demolished if they step outside. Supporters and relatives from other river towns come to deliver food and to offer moral support. The government knows forced evictions could make them look bad but they are eager to push ahead with the project. However, on December 31st 2121, one day before the order comes for the Chinese Army to move in on the Gongshan protestors, a week of heavy rain causes a massive landslide right where the dam is being constructed. The landslide crushes the machinery and infrastructure under a mountain of rocks but leaves the Salween to run free. Nobody is hurt but the project is in ruins and has to be abandoned. Gongshan survives in peace and the residents emerge from their homes to thank nature for its help.

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