Search results for "east"
Restoring the Ruins?
Russia and Syria announce joint project to restore ancient city of Palmyra
Fair Pay for Fair Work
Lawrence Scarpa on paid competitions
Snow Joking Matter
Snowmaking signals climate control mastery and avarice in a warming world
Tightening the Belt
China’s Belt and Road Initiative is tying the world together—but what's the end game?
In addition to the more infamous killing and pillaging conducted by its various hordes, the Mongol Empire, first led by Genghis Khan and later by his grandson Kublai, brought nearly all of Asia, much of the Middle East, and some of Europe under a unified system of trade and commerce in the 13th century. Consolidating ancient Silk Road mercantile connections, it brought currency into widespread use and generally sought win-win trade deals with conquered territories. While that empire faded by the mid-14th century, it gave the world a precursor to the modern-day state of China, which has embarked on its own ambitious—and, to some, unsettling—quest to link a considerable portion of the world through trade.
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), launched in 2013 by Chinese president Xi Jinping, includes hundreds of infrastructure projects financed and constructed in part or in whole by Chinese entities in lands far beyond China’s borders. Projects include ports, airports, rail lines, utilities, industrial centers, highways, and even entire new cities and urban sectors. “Belt” refers to roads and railways while, paradoxically, “road” refers to sea-lanes; together they aim for nothing less than the unification of almost all of Asia and Africa.
The initiative segments the globe into “corridors” and involves differing levels of participation from host countries. There is no official count of participating countries, but estimates range from 60—covering nearly all of Asia—to well over one hundred. The BRI’s six main economic corridors include the New Eurasian Land Bridge, the China-Central Asia–West Asia Economic Corridor, the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor, the Bangladesh–China–Myanmar Economic Corridor, the China–Mongolia–Russia Economic Corridor, and the China–Indochina Peninsula Economic Corridor.
Analysts estimate that trade generated by the BRI reached $117 billion last year. The total estimated cost, by 2027: up to $1.3 trillion. Whether that investment will pay off for China remains to be seen. Chinese banks and companies hope to profit from loan payments and contracts; the Chinese state hopes to benefit by opening markets and gaining influence. The World Bank estimates that the BRI could reduce transportation times on many corridors by 12 percent, increase trade between 2.7 percent and 9.7 percent, increase income by up to 3.4 percent, and lift 7.6 million people from extreme poverty.
Consisting largely of heavy infrastructure, these projects are unlikely to result in lavish Xanadus to stoke the architectural imagination. With the exception of some impressive new cities and city districts, such as Port City in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and some choice high-speed rail stations, BRI projects include workaday structures like cargo terminals, highway bridges, and the odd potash plant. The BRI recalls past geopolitical initiatives, like the Marshall Plan, by which the United States revived, and benefited from, Europe’s economy after World War II. But the BRI dwarfs the Marshall Plan, which comprised $13 billion of investment, or around $100 billion in today’s dollars—much less than BRI’s trillion-dollar scope.
As arguably the biggest collection of construction projects in human history, the BRI offers ample opportunities for architects, contractors, engineers, and other designers. Many, if not most, of the firms involved are Chinese concerns with close ties to the state. They include state-owned enterprises like China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO) and China State Construction Engineering Corporation, the world’s third-largest shipping company and largest construction company, respectively. Both are massive enterprises with numerous subsidiaries, and though they are publicly traded, they ultimately answer to the Chinese Communist Party.
In many ways, this effort to build soft power through hard infrastructure extends a domestic development strategy that China has followed for the past two decades. Itself a developing nation not long ago, China has built up its own ports, roads, and railroads in order to unify its national economy and give its manufacturing sector—which comprises 20 percent of the world’s output of goods—access to global markets.
The Chinese government optimistically refers to the BRI as a 21st-century Silk Road, one that harmoniously links economies and increases prosperity for dozens of countries and billions of people, representing up to 60 percent of the world’s economic output. China pitches these projects to host countries as tools of economic development. Analysts say that success, for China and BRI partners alike, depends on far more than concrete and steel. The onus falls on host countries to make use of China’s largesse. Efficient trade relies on everything from effective local governance to the mobility of workers to the mitigation of environmental impacts. In the case of partners like Belarus (sometimes referred to as Europe’s last dictatorship) whose governments are unstable, corrupt, or underdeveloped, reforms may pose greater challenges than does the development of megaprojects.
In many cases, benefits to host countries have not materialized. Many projects use little local expertise or labor; rather, they are boons for Chinese engineering firms, construction companies, and suppliers such as steel and concrete manufacturers. Once built, they take on a nearly colonial tenor, moving raw materials out of host countries and moving Chinese goods into them. And no matter how economists feel about BRI projects, the initiative has already alarmed environmentalists. The number and physical size of projects promise to remake urban landscapes, alter—and destroy—natural landscapes, and consume untold millions of tons of natural resources, building materials, and fossil fuels. Chinese environmental laws and practices are also notoriously lax compared to those in the U.S. and Europe. In 2017 the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) issued a report documenting BRI projects’ numerous incursions into sensitive habitats. WWF identified “high impacts” throughout nearly all of Southeast Asia and “moderate impacts” in BRI corridors in Central Asia. BRI projects have also been associated with increases in the use of coal for power production in many host countries.
Beyond environmental effects, even when host countries own their assets, they are indebted to Chinese financiers. Reports indicate that many countries cannot pay off construction loans, leaving them indebted to China indefinitely. Many projects have turned into white elephants. Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport in Sri Lanka was designed to accommodate one million passengers per year. Though fully operational, Mattala currently serves zero passengers, while also servicing $190 million in debt to Chinese banks. Having been a relatively poor, developing country so recently, China likely understands the pressure points of the Myanmars and Mozambiques of the world better than any other global power does.
The Center for Global Development estimates that as many as eight countries involved with the BRI are already at risk of debt distress. Some countries are in debt to China by a factor of as much as 20 percent of their GDPs. Others are now approaching BRI proposals more gingerly than they might have when the program launched. Malaysia recently canceled $22 billion in BRI projects; other countries, particularly Kenya and Mozambique, are pushing back against proposals and renegotiating deals. Ultimately, economic domination via financing may not be a great strategy—flush with cash though they may be, Chinese banks want returns on their investments no less than Western banks do. Then again, even if they aren’t repaid, the Chinese state might still get what it wants in the form of global influence.
In other words, the BRI is as much a geopolitical experiment as it is an economic development strategy.
Josh Stephens is contributing editor to The California Planning & Development Report and author of the forthcoming The Urban Mystique: Notes on Los Angeles, California, and Beyond.
Shedding the Shed
the_shed_is_a_shack pokes fun at Hudson Yards and corporate malfeasance
Are you creating some of the memes or are you mostly sharing other things you see? We create all of the content ourselves, except in a very few select cases where we have reposted and clearly credited the original poster. Our audience also sometimes sends ideas or news articles to us, and occasionally that’s a prompt for us to create a particular meme or post around that idea.View this post on Instagram
How do you see this action: As advocacy or activism, or are you mostly just having fun trolling the developers? The account is light-hearted about a dark-hearted thing, and so we’re poking fun while also highlighting some very serious issues. There are a lot of problems with how money and power are distributed and abused in the art world, and also in the world at large, and what has happened (and is happening) at Hudson Yards and with the Shed is representative of some of the most egregious examples. There’s also such a huge gap between how Hudson Yards and the Shed were sold and marketed to the public, and what they have actually become. So much marketing hype was built into the selling of it, and so it feels right that the response should be similarly structured in terms of tone, as memes, faux ads, and hype-speak. Also, we’re in the art world, so we like our visuals. There’s a long history of art world projects that critique the structure and internal systems that underpin cultural institutions. We’d like to see that critique contribute to change, so there’s an advocacy element to our trolling.View this post on Instagram
Is it connected to a particular set of positions? No matter how much we might have a laugh at some of the more outrageous details of Hudson Yards and the Shed, the development is actually a slap in the face to the people of New York and thus in need of more serious examination. A select group of wealthy individuals and corporations are benefitting from Hudson Yards, along with government officials who actively championed and pushed through the development to advance their own political or business interests (including Bloomberg, De Blasio, Dan Doctoroff, and others). But what did everyone else get? Our tax dollars went to build a private luxury neighborhood billed as “Little Dubai,” while many New Yorkers don’t have access to affordable housing, reliable subway lines, or adequate healthcare. The developers tried to cut out unions and limit worker safety standards, and people lost wages and got hurt. And with the Shed, our tax dollars helped pay for a building and organization that is not serving the cultural community or the public as promised, and instead has created a tax-deductible structure and plaything for the developer and his pals to utilize and benefit from. So, our position is about advocating for the public interest and for the cultural community.View this post on Instagram
What motivated you in particular to start it, and is Instagram an effective tool so far to forward a message? The account started really just as a cathartic response and half-joke. We visited The Shed soon after it opened and were stunned by the experience. The building itself was in disarray. Hardware was falling off the walls or not properly installed, there were cracks in the glass and electrical socket plates, puddles of leaking lubricant from the escalator, peeling and chipped paint on multiple walls, exit signs with wires sticking out, obvious building code violations, and more.View this post on Instagram
For a brand-new, wildly expensive building supported by taxpayer money and on city-owned land—and touted by the developers and the city as representing the future of cultural institutions and civic public-private engagement—it was a massive failure. So many cultural institutions around the city are struggling to pay the bills, and money got poured into this development. It’s unconscionable that it turned out this way and that there has not yet been a reckoning for abusing the public trust. So what started as a joke among friends expanded as we realized how serious and ongoing the problems there were. Instagram is the art world’s preferred social media for the most part, at least for the moment, and so it seemed like a natural choice.View this post on Instagram
What would be an ideal outcome? The desired outcome is to expand the conversation around the Shed and Hudson Yards. It’s also important to us to emphasize how the final shape of the development is not an accident; it’s what happens when a development that is privately owned and controlled does not include the appropriate level of input, regulation, and safeguarding by community groups and the public. The Shed is an extension of that core problem, with a board controlled by the developers and their buddies, and even the building itself is literally infected by and physically trapped inside the development Alien-style (The Shed ended up being constructed with much of its operational guts shared with and located inside of the skyscraper next door). So now we have a major NYC neighborhood and cultural institution that is being controlled by a small group of private investors, continuing to benefit from tax incentives and public money, in order to advance personal interests that are largely counter to the public’s.View this post on Instagram
Although Hudson Yards is mostly owned by private developers, the Shed sits on public land owned by the city and is a nonprofit entity that is required to benefit the public good. So we—the public—need to hold the Shed accountable and see that necessary changes are made to the way it operates. There are many different options that might be proposed as an alternative; for example, a consortium of existing cultural institutions and community organizations could come together to re-envision how the space should operate and who should run it. The building could serve as an outpost/off-site programming space for other arts and culture organizations on a rotating basis, among other possibilities. It could also be converted into free or subsidized office/studio space for cultural nonprofits, artists, and community organizations that can’t afford rent because of developments like Hudson Yards, or for events like pop-up free healthcare clinics or other services for those in need. Further, there should be a public conversation to include government officials that rethinks how the next phase of Hudson Yards is allowed to proceed, with an eye toward much more community oversight, regulation, and built-in systems for clawing back public money/tax incentives if and when promises aren’t kept.View this post on Instagram
What should Hudson Yards have been? Hudson Yards should have been a true public-private partnership, which means careful input, oversight, and regulation by the community at every stage and ongoing for the life of the development. That’s a hard and challenging process, but it’s necessary and fair if developers want to get decades of tax incentives, city- and state-paid infrastructure, and other public money. Hudson Yards could have and should have been an actual mixed-use community, with truly integrated housing for low-income, middle, and yes even some luxury, as well as a range of nonprofit, business, and retail spaces that genuinely serve the neighborhood needs more broadly. It should have true public space (not privately owned space that the developer controls on whim) and cultural venues that more fully reflect the needs and interests of the community. Cultural and creative programming and public artwork should be informed by and ultimately decided by those with expertise in the field alongside community members, not by one rich guy who wants a big Heatherwick bauble because he thinks it’s what other rich guys like. If he wants a Heatherwick (or anything else), he’s welcome to buy it and build it—but not with the support and help of public money and infrastructure.View this post on Instagram
Because the developers of Hudson Yards are claiming private control of the entire space (even though this isn’t actually correct, with the Shed on city-owned land and the Hudson Yards subway part of the MTA), they are asserting that visitors don’t have the same rights they would normally have in a public space. That’s deeply problematic on many levels (impacting everything from the right to protest, to who gets to sit on benches or be otherwise harassed under what conditions, as well as in their use of facial recognition technology in the kiosks and other surveillance measures by the developers). So there should be requirements that dictate how any development that benefits from public support can control that space.View this post on Instagram
Also if you have anything to add about the processes by which public property is developed . . . Similar to what we noted should have happened with Hudson Yards, the process for [the] development of public space and property (and public-private developments) needs to be more carefully safeguarded and regulated, and there needs to be oversight by independent community experts and individuals who are not in any way affiliated with the developers. And this oversight should continue for the lifetime of the property and with teeth to match (heavy fines and claw-backs for developers who renege on promises, for example). We all know how arduous these kinds of processes can be, but it’s necessary if we want to ensure projects truly benefit the public. That doesn’t mean there needs to be total consensus on every aspect of a project (which is impossible to obtain in any case and often leads to art-horse-by-committee outcomes), but it means the decision-making needs to be led by a sense of true commitment to the public good and strict, proactive measures to ensure there are not conflicts of interest. There also needs to be a more nuanced understanding and recognition of how we assign expertise and decision-making power within this oversight and community process; for example, there’s a tendency to assume “expert” in the arts only applies to a well-known museum president, a wealthy collector, or a big name artist, when in fact it should include arts workers and others who have active, on-the-job experience within cultural organizations, or an avid arts goer who is not financially able to be a donor/collector but loves art with the same zeal as an Aggie [Agnes] Gund, among other examples. There are many of these people throughout the city, and their voices should be given a place. Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because our public spaces will be made better by their input.View this post on Instagram