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Local Book Notes: Ghost Cities & Urban Obsolescence

"The Kangbashi district of Ordos, China is a marvel of urban planning, 137-square miles of shining towers, futuristic architecture and pristine parks carved out of the grassland of Inner Mongolia. It is a thoroughly modern city, but for one thing: No one lives there," Laura Mallonee writes for Wired.

Well, almost nobody. Kangbashi is one of hundreds of sparkling new cities sitting relatively empty throughout China, built by a government eager to urbanize the country but shunned by people unable to afford it or hesitant to leave the rural communities they know.

Chicago photographer Kai Caemmerer visited Kangbashi and two other cities for his ongoing series Unborn Cities. The photos capture the eerie sensation of standing on a silent street surrounded by empty skyscrapers and public spaces devoid of life. "These cities felt slightly surreal and almost uncanny," Caemmerer says, "which I think is a product of both the newness of these places and the relative lack of people within them."

China has built hundreds of new cities over the last three decades as it reshapes itself into an urbanized nation with a plan to move 250 million rural inhabitants - more than six times the population of California - into cities by 2026. The newly minted cities help showcase the political accomplishments of local government officials, who reason that real estate and urban development is a safe, high-return investment that can help fuel economic growth.

But it's hard to start a city from scratch. Most people don't want to live somewhere that feels dead, and these new cities sometimes lack the jobs and commerce needed to support those who would live there. In Kangbashi, the government used some administrative tricks to address this, relocating bureaucratic buildings and schools, then trying to convince people in surrounding villages to move in. It had minor success. Today, a city designed for at least 500,000 has around 100,000 inhabitants.

Caemmerer's Columbia exhibit:


Chicago Wrecks
"'It's really not a question of whether the building was worthy of designation,' then-alderman Edwin P. Fifielski said of the Chicago Stock Exchange Building in 1971, months before it was demolished for a modern office building, 30 N. LaSalle.

"'It was a matter of weighing the aesthetic value of the building with the money involved to buy and maintain it. It would be true of any landmark in the city.'

"And with that, Chicago has famously wrecked much great architecture - and even leveled entire neighborhoods," Lee Bey writes for the Reader.

"On the surface, it (unfortunately) makes sense: Who'd want to be stuck with an aging building that's expensive to maintain - regardless of its architectural import - when a new and efficient structure can be built in its place?

"But a recent book, Obsolescence: An Architectural History, by Daniel M. Abramson, currently director of architectural studies at Tufts University, challenges those ideas. It explains that building obsolescence is an invented notion, created by Chicago real estate experts in the 1890s as a way to justify a near-ruthless push for profitable new construction. And once these ideas took root, they'd go global in the 20th century, a wild reshaping of cities that put older buildings and neighborhoods in constant peril of demolition."


From the University of Chicago Press:

"Belief in obsolescence, as Abramson shows, also profoundly affects architectural design. In the 1960s, many architects worldwide accepted the inevitability of obsolescence, experimenting with flexible, modular designs, from open-plan schools, offices, labs, and museums to vast megastructural frames and indeterminate building complexes.

"Some architects went so far as to embrace obsolescence's liberating promise to cast aside convention and habit, envisioning expendable short-life buildings that embodied human choice and freedom.

"Others, we learn, were horrified by the implications of this ephemerality and waste, and their resistance eventually set the stage for our turn to sustainability - the conservation rather than disposal of resources."


Czech Mate
"Every year the Czech Ministry of Culture and the Association of Czech Libraries awards the title Knight of the Order of the Beautiful Word to over a dozen children who have discovered the joy of reading and to selected actors and writers who have helped to bring the magic of the spoken or written word to the youngest generation," Radio Prague reports.

"This year, for the first time ever, one of those admitted to the select club is a member of the Czech expat community abroad - nine-year-old Jerry Mech from Chicago."


Here's Jerry visiting the Czech Parliament.


"Right now literature appears to be Jerry's biggest passion, although he plays the drums and wants to form a band, speed-skates, plays chess and plans to start with hockey in the autumn."


Crowd-Sourced School Of Champions
"Carla Zapata is a Network Chief for Chicago Public Schools who can't believe Sojourner High School is as good as it claims to be. 'The School of Champions' consistently wins academic, artistic, and athletic accolades as the best educational institution in Illinois."

A Crowd-Sourced Novel by: Julie Biehl, Joseph M. Burns,Tony Hintze, Chris Inserra, Gary Liddell, Josh Locks, Barbara Mahany, Carol Maskus, James McNamee, Patrick T. Reardon, Bob Rehak, Jay C. Rehak, Scott Suma, Chet B. Waldman & Eric Wright. Conceived by Jay C. Rehak Edited by Jay C. Rehak & Sara Yanny-Tillar.


Comments welcome.


Posted on June 7, 2016

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PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Illinois Caverns Reopening After 10 Years.

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