WOODWORTH Max: "Ghost Cities: The Role of Citizens and the Government"



On May 4, 2016, Dr. Max Woodworth gave a lecture entitled “Ghost Cities: the Role of Citizens and the Government.” Dr. Woodworth is an Assistant Professor of Geography at the Ohio State University. He completed his dissertation on new city of Kangbashi in Ordos, Inner Mongolia, which is often referred as a “Ghost City.” With his first-hand living and research experience in this Ghost City, Dr. Woodworth relayed the processes and the key players in China’s socio-economic and political structure that triggered the unprecedented “boomtown” growth phenomena in China.

Dr. Woodworth asserts that, in general, local government’s drive for economic boosts, the regime of land financing as a political performance, as well as the speculative investment in real estate from the citizen’s side, are leading to this phenomena of accumulation. Here, over-supply becomes a pressing issue.  As a result, super blocks, even the entire New District, are faced with very low tenancy rates or total emptiness.

Nevertheless, Dr. Woodworth also pointed out that these so-called Ghost Cities are actually properties that citizens speculatively invest into. In terms of real estate market, it is arguably not a ghost. In fact, it could be said to be quite successful. As long as these constructions are bought, they are becoming assets of citizens. Indeed, without alternative ways to invest financially, this seems like a potential way to make investments. Though the future and the solution for local governments regarding these low tenancy rates are unknown, Dr. Woodworth thinks that local government’s policy and urban planning strategies could somehow change the trajectory of these boomtowns. Still, we need to wait and see how time, scale, and new development of these cities might change these existing dynamics.

--Waishan Qiu, MCP, STL Fellow

Speaker: WOODWORTH Max
Department of Geography and Department of International Studies, The Ohio State University

Max Woodworth is an Assistant Professor of Geography at the Ohio State University.  He completed his PhD at the University of California, Berkeley on “Frontier Boomtown Urbanism,” focusing on city building in Ordos, Inner Mongolia, China. His is currently researching China's lower-tier cities in the country's Inner Asian northern and western borderlands.

Ghost Cities: the Role of Citizens and the Government
Journalists and scholars have popularized the notion of the “ghost town” in recent years to index massive-scale urban developments proliferating throughout China appearing to have low tenancy rates or otherwise exhibit troubling emptiness. In this talk, Dr. Woodworth applies a case study of Kangbashi New District in Ordos, Inner Mongolia, to examine the ghost-town phenomenon from the perspectives of the local-state land finance model and private demand for property. He will apply the concept of “spectacular accumulation” to connect state spectacle with private speculation in the production of monumental new built environments. 

Recommended reading list:
Frontier Boomtown Urbanism in Ordos, Inner Mongolia Mongolia Autonomous Region