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A New Walled City in a Newly-made Desert

The Ecotopia 2121 project explores the prosperous super-green futures of 100 cities worldwide. This month, we display a vision of future Ordos City, China.

The Ordos are a Mongol people who lived for many centuries on the Ordos plain in what is now northern China. At present, they number about a hundred thousand people spread over three Chinese provinces. For centuries, the Ordos plain was a prairieland, with rivers and streams in abundance, making it a vital pasture zone for Ordos farmers. However, over the course of just one generation it has become a desert. When the Chinese took control of the area in earnest in the late twentieth century and subjected it to a combination of de-vegetation, hydrological over-extraction, and mega-sized coal mining, the prairie became denuded, dried up, and desolate.

The push to start a massive coal industry within the Ordos plain worked out very well commercially, and it meant money could be spent on the rapid building of a gigantic new city. Ordos City, built in the last decade from scratch, now stands complete with new tower blocks, broad avenues, malls, and luxury apartments. The only thing the city lacks is people. Ordos City was built to house one million, but currently only about ten thousand workers live there. The government says: “Just wait. People will come.” And in the meantime officials are busy convincing the Ordos people to move from their farms and villages, ravaged by the growing desert, into the new city. However, the rent is far too expensive for farmers and villagers, and there is nowhere to grow food, so most of the Ordos stay put. Nevertheless, new electricity plants are installed, new highways are constructed, and the city grows ever larger, though without people.

ORDOS CITY 2121 by Alan Marshall

As the decades of this century pass, the city will likely be abandoned altogether overnight by urbanites after some coal company nearby closes down. When day breaks, the Ordos people ponder the situation for a few minutes before they move in to occupy the empty city. By 2121, not only have they made the abandoned city their home, they have recycled the infrastructure to refashion the city away from its modern monolithic character into a diverse mix of neighborhoods.



EAST QUARTER OF ORDOS CITY 2121 by Alan Marshall

WEST QUARTER OF ORDOS CITY 2121 by Alan Marshall


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