I remember in 2001, urban planners in Shanghai initiated the “One City, Nine Towns” project, which aimed to decentralize the city by building nine unique satellite towns modeled after cities from other countries.
With the help of these wonderful architects from all over the world, it seems like we can walk along Thames River or grasp romantic feelings in Madrid without even leaving Shanghai.
Unfortunately, these exotic towns can barely attract attention from public and gradually faded into the background.
Located in Songjiang district, 20 miles away from downtown, Thames Town is the most famous town among these new settlements. It features cobblestone streets, red telephone boxes, guards in red uniforms, and Edwardian townhouses.
But the only thing missing is the people.
I went to Thames Town again last week to cover a story. It hasn’t changed much since I visited it last year. By change I mean the popularity. The occupancy rate is still under 50%, though, according to the real estate agent, all the houses were sold out five years ago. People enjoy a getaway at the weekends but living here seems a little bit scary, especially in the evening.
Residents call it a ghost town.
I could hardly see any other visitors beside the couples and photographers who were shooting wedding photos. None of the restaurants were open when I was there except a café called incomplete coffee. The owner was very excited to see us as we were the only two customers during the lunch time.
To be honest, I wouldn’t even think of going back if it’s not for work purpose. It takes two hours to get there from the city by metro and then taxi. I have a limited choice of eating and window shopping. Another thing is that, people don’t want to do business in the town as there are too few visitors and visitors like me who don’t want to go back.
The government seems very picky about the merchants. They have established an investment promotion department for over a year but haven’t attracted enough investment yet. They care about what you sell and how many you can sell. They also care about whether the products you sell fit Thames Town’s surrounding. That’s probably why less and less people want to do business here.
I actually appreciate the government being strict with the merchants. It’s crucial to keep its style as that’s what outstands Thames Town from other residential areas in Shanghai. Maybe it’s better to keep it that way so that the residents can have a quiet life here and wake up by the singing of the birds every morning.
And that’s exactly why they chose to move to Thames Town in the first place, to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. If there are thousands of visitors in the town everyday, what’s the difference of living there? I think the government should shift its focus from attracting business to serving the residents. They could start with extend metro line or add more taxis near the town. The transportation is not convenient at all. It took me 20 minutes to get a crab both times when I was there.
Another thing the government can do is to develop owner committee and residents’ committee in the town. They should have been established five years ago. Besides, how come there is still no food market or supermarket inside the town? Residents have to drive 15 times to get and daily supplies.
The initial purpose of building such towns was good, but the planning should have combined with local factors to better serve the local residents. I believe the occupancy rate will be greatly increased if the government really takes actions to solve these problems.