In the rough and tumble world of selling property, developers have always been ready to go to great lengths, but not many can lay claim to building a second Paris, as a group of Chinese businessmen have done. Only their Eiffel Tower (a third the height of the real one) stands some 6,000 kilometres from the French capital.
The residential complex dubbed Tianducheng (roughly translated as ‘Sky Capital’) is 200 kilometres southwest of the megalopolis of Shanghai, and near the tourist city of Hangzhou.
The problem is that the project is missing people. Construction began around seven years ago and it’s almost complete; now the property company needs to prove its business plan is workable.
One of Zhejiang Tiandu’s top managers, Chen Zhengwei, said: “Hangzhou is a tourist city, and I think in this way it is similar to France. French people really pursue romance and relaxation, and they also like to travel, and I think Hangzhou has some similarities. In this way, importing it has worked smoothly. It’s very normal.”
A 300 square metre apartment with a view of Versailles fountains is marketed for rent at 500 euros per month. Ten thousand people could live in Tianducheng – but local media have already condemned it as a new Chinese ghost town. The promoters refuse to say how many units remain without takers.
Zeng Zeng, a resident of three years, rejected any pessimism: “I think it’s just that it’s popular value hasn’t reached that of mature residential communities. I think Tianducheng will fill up later, and I think it has great development potential. So I don’t support those that say it is a ghost city.”
China has a handful of these colossal urban building ventures which have failed to fill up – notably Ordos in the Mongolian desert; prices there have gone down one third in the space of a year. Yet in a country where the entrepreneurs take a long view of returns on investment, they seem ready to gamble that the overcapacity will only be temporary.