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 et al.


As the decades of this century pass, the city will likely be abandoned by China’s government when all the coal has been ripped completely from the land. They won’t make any official announcement. That would be too embarrassing. But the surrounding rural people can see it happening, as Ordos City becomes a ghost town over the course of one long winter night. 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 surplus infrastructure to build a great wall around it. They tell outsiders that it’s to keep the desert at bay, but everybody knows it’s really to keep the Chinese government out.



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