Scott: Alright. Now, skyscrapers that look more like art than office buildings and trains that move at near warp speeds. Alright, well, maybe not warp speeds. But it is nearly impossible to miss China’s recent boom in infrastructure. And as we continue our series in China, Shelby Holliday examines the push forward and, well, up.
Shelby: Everyday, new buildings are popping up all over China. This 15-story hotel was built with lightning speed in just two days. The massive New Century Global Center, complete with an aquarium and indoor beach, recently set a record as the world’s largest building. And check out the city of Shanghai in 1990 and in 2010. The downtown skyline was completely transformed in just two fast decades. It is a phenomenon Feng Weiyi has witnessed over the course of his lifetime.
Was any of this here when you were born?
Feng Weiyi: No, it was just a farm on the other side of the river.
Shelby: In how many years has this been built?
Feng: In just twenty years.
The rapid building frenzy is all part of a plan to boost China’s economy and create jobs, and it is not slowing down anytime soon. China has big plans to grow even bigger in the next decade, and Chinese officials are talking about moving hundreds of millions of people from rural to urban areas by 2025.
What is the thinking behind urbanization?
Professor: I think the major intention is to increase the consumption. You know, if you move from countryside to a city, then you have to, for example, you get a new apartment and you have to buy a lot of things.
Shelby: To prepare, China plans to build 50,000 skyscrapers in the next ten years – the equivalent of ten New York Cities. And the government has been investing heavily in transportation, adding dozens of airports, paving thousands of miles of roads, and expanding the world’s largest network of high-speed trains.
This baby’s going to take us from Shanghai to Beijing in about four hours! That trip would take about three times as long on our American trains.
What is even crazier is that these fast bullet trains didn’t even exist in China in 2007. Today, the country boasts the world’s largest network of high-speed rail.
While these infrastructure projects have created hundreds of thousands of jobs and supported the nation’s growing middleclass, they have come at a tremendous cost. Structures sometimes collapse due to fast and sloppy construction. And the buildings going up today are only expected to stand for 25-30 years. Rapid growth has also made China the biggest polluter in the world.
Shen Ssiao: The construction and the many people, it has changed our environment a lot.
Shelby: See, the more China builds, the more energy it consumes, and that means more pollution across the country.
How does the pollution affect your life?
Shen: I am from Beijing, which lacks water, and most of our water is polluted.
Shelby: More than half of the country’s water is so contaminated it is considered unfit for human use. And record-high air pollution has shut down entire cities and put many lives at risk.
Scientists say that up to half-a-million people die prematurely every year because of dangerous smog. That is why many people are seen wearing masks on bad days.
Mindy Wu: Everybody can see it. Everybody can even smell it.
Shelby: And the air is full of smog so thick that it is actually blocking sunlight and making it difficult for crops to grow.
In response to growing concern from its people, the Chinese government recently announced goals to cut back on pollution over the next five years. But with so much momentum, many are worried that China won’t be able to slow down fast enough.
Shen: We need to think about the next generation. If we destroy the city, where can they live?
Shelby: Shelby Holliday, Channel One News.
Scott: Want a closer look at some of the buildings in China’s big building boom? Well, head to ChannelOne.com.