Duplitecture: Architectural Mimicry Thrives in Chinese Cities

China’s construction boom is still revving on and the country is expected to add whole cities in the next decade that will be homes to hundreds of millions of people. But as China’s real estate market and construction boom grows in leaps and bounds, one significant characteristic of the Chinese urban expansion has been the scrupulous and in some cases unethical mimicry of the architectural models of several famous buildings, street, neighbourhoods and villages from the West, a practice that has been aptly named “duplitecture”. Chinese duplitecture has seen several functional replicas of Western architectural facades built in China. In some instances, architectural models that are still under construction have been replicated such as the famous Wangjing SOHO design by Britsh architect Zaha Hadid which was replicated by Chongqing Meiquan 22nd Century. The company has even gone ahead to develop the architectural model ahead of the original concessionaire. This is certainly the darker side of Chinese architectural mimicry but Chinese builders have gone to remarkable lengths to import Western architectural facades into China. One of the most popular duplitecture projects is the Shanghai’s “One City, Nine Towns” project where the city is ringed by 10 replica communities, each  representing major European cities ranging from English cities to Dutch, German, Scandinavian, French, Italian and many others with each of the replica communities having the distinctive architectural language associated with those European and to some extent American cities.


The Replica European Cities in Urban China

China is replicating European cities on a very impressive scale. Examples of this include the little city of “Paris” in Tianducheng with its Parisian Boulevards, landscaped gardens, the Arc de Triomphe, a little Eiffel Tower and the Palace of Versailles! Hallstatt is a beautiful Austrian town which is also a UNESCO World Heritage site but the Chinese have also built an exact “functional” replica of Hallstatt based in Guangdong province. A Chinese real estate mogul fell in love with Hallstatt so much that they decided to replicate the city in China!  Other remarkable cases of duplitecture include the Thames Village outside Shanghai and the “Chinese Manhattan” in Yuijapu.

The “Paris” in Tianducheng

The “Paris” in Tianducheng

What drives Chinese Duplitecture?

China has had a long going fascination with West just as many Westerners have had an intense fascination with the Orient but is the remarkable Chinese duplitecture a mere manifestation of this fascination with all things Western? One writer has at least delved deeper into this intriguing phenomenon in Chinese Urban development. In her book, Original Copies: Architectural Mimicry in Contemporary China, Bianca Bosker delves deeper into Chinese duplitecture, the people who live in the themescapes and tries to enter the minds of the Chinese  developers who build these massive replica copycat cities and communities.

Skepticism About Housing Recovery: Are We Out of the Woods?

For the last couple of years the Obama administration has been assuring us that economic recovery is imminent, and up until now, most of us have been scoffing at these assertions thanks to continued foreclosures and ongoing unemployment rates. But according to pundits everywhere, the recent bump in the housing market might just be the beginning of the end where the Great Recession is concerned. Of course, popular media outlets haven’t exactly been the paragons of valid information on this front over the last few years, a state of affairs that we probably owe to the 24/7 news cycle and the fact that filler often takes the form of rampant speculation in the absence of actual news to report. But setting that entirely aside, anyone who has been poking around on MLS sites like Zillow and Trulia is probably aware that foreclosures have all but vanished, short sales are drying up, and housing prices are actually starting to increase. The only real question is whether this is going to become a trend or if it’s merely a short-lived anomaly in the ongoing recessi Continue reading

How to Clean Up San Francisco’s Dirty Streets

My previous blog post discussed Travel and Leisure’s recent list of America’s Dirtiest Cities.  As I stated at the beginning of that post, I have found San Francisco to be quite dirty with trash and litter in comparison with my previous hometown of Toronto.  While a lot of San Francisco is quite clean, there are definitely large sections that are downright filthy.  While I don’t want to complain about the city’s litter problems, I do want to offer a couple of ideas that I believe could greatly decrease the trash on San Francisco’s streets.  Below is a list of these ideas.  Some of them are more concrete, easy to execute ideas whereas other ones may require more thinking:

  • The public trash cans throughout San Francisco are far too open.  Homeless people can easily sift through the trash in these garbage cans and often end up throwing up a lot of the trash on the ground.  Additionally, if the trash can is full, the wind can easily blow the trash out of the can and into the street and side walk around the can.  The trash cans should be changed to a trash can that must be opened to deposit trash (similar to trash cans you would find at food courts).  In Toronto, for instance, many of the public trash cans would require you to step on a lever to open the top and deposit the trash.  Even when opened, it is difficult to reach into the trash, which would stop the problem of homeless people sifting through the trash and throwing the garbage on the streets.
  • Increase the fines on littering to something very high ($1000?).  This may sound extreme, but it will certainly make just about everyone to think twice about littering.
  • Incent those who pick up garbage on the street.  People get a small amount of change whenever they deposit an empty can or bottle.  Perhaps we could the same with garbage.  For instance, for each full bag of trash someone picks up and deposits to the San Francisco Garbage Collection Services, they would get $5.  While this would cost the city extra money, it could be offset by less need for street cleaners if it turned out to be a successful program.  The only potential issue is that people could abuse the system by simply taking trash from a garbage can to fill up a bag.
  • Give out fines for anyone who leaves out unsecured garbage or recycling to be picked up by garbage collection.  This garbage or recycling needs to either be in a closed bin or tied down so it will not blow away.

Toronto Transit Commissions Takes Stance on Whether to Privatize Toronto Public Transit

For anyone who lives in Toronto and takes the subway fairly regularly, you may have noticed the posters discussing the potential negative outcomes of privatizing Toronto public transit and using Vancouver, Melbourne and London and examples of why not to privatize public transit in Toronto.   You can read the full story in the Toronto Sun article entitled ‘Keep TTC public‘ about the 1/2 million dollar campaign by the TTC to make people aware of why the TTC shouldn’t be privatized.

Well now, it’s time for my rant…

Having moved to Toronto nearly four years ago, I can truly say that the TTC is the worst public transit system I have dealt with.  The ticket prices are astronomical (the price of a monthly pass is double that of Boston’s for example), the staff is extremely overpaid, rude and generally quite lazy, and the coverage for a city of Toronto’s size is abysmal.  On top of this, the subway stations are generally dirty and all of the subways and streetcars are old and regularly broken.  The fact that there has been so many problems trying to get the light rail projects off the ground highlight the TTC’s inefficiencies.

What I find most insulting is the fact that they bring up Melbourne’s public transit system as an example of why privatization does not work.  Most people in Toronto have not likely lived in Melbourne nor have they visited it.  Having lived in Melbourne back in 2006, I can set the record straight that Melbourne’s public transit system is a huge step up from Toronto’s.  The coverage of the transit system is incredible (whereas Toronto has 3 subway lines, Melbourne has more than a dozen).  The prices are reasonable and the trains, trams and buses are both efficient and clean.

So what can I conclude from all this?  Well if Melbourne really is an example of what happens when you privatize a public transit system, then I believe Toronto’s TTC should be privatized as soon as possible.  So thank you Toronto Transit Commission for helping me realize what the right thing truly is to do, but at least we’re not in Memphis Homes,

Want a Lifetime Pass on Public Transit? Just Give Up Your Car!

The city of Murcia, Spain has recently started offering residents a lifetime pass on their newly built trolley system.  There is only one catch:  these same residents must trade in their cars in exchange.  This rather radical idea is only available for a limited time, but apparently has already picked up steam in the small city.  In addition to this promotion, the city of Murcia has also started posting humorous advertisements around the city depicting how troublesome it is to find a parking space for your car within the city challenging the notion of car ownership even further.  You can read more about this radical promotion here.

The World: Now and Then

The Amazing Stuff blog recently posted an interesting look at certain cities through the times with the blog post The World: Now and Then.  The mix of cities are certainly a touch random (including a really interesting look at the Upsala Glacier), but it’s still very compelling stuff indeed:

  • New York City
  • San Francisco
  • Dubai
  • Shanghai
  • Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Upsala Glacier

So take a look and be amazed!

Is it cheaper to rent or buy?


Here is another interesting map of the United States, this one presented by Trulia real estate search.  This time the map indicates which major cities are cheaper to rent in and which major cities are cheaper to buy in.   Topping the list of cities that are cheaper to rent in should come as no surprise:  New York City is notoriously expensive to buy a home in.  On the other hand, major centers such as Phoenix and Miami are far better for buying a home (perhaps because housing prices fell so drastically in these cities?).    The numbers are bit more confusing than the colours and are the result of some complex calculation to determine what is cheaper.  But the main point is that the lower the number, the more it makes sense to buy within the city.

Are the Richest American Also the Best Educated?


There is a pretty common perception that the wealthiest Americans are also the ones with the highest level of education.  Yet, coming up with a way to measure this is obviously a bit difficult.  Recently, the U.S. Census’s American Community Survey was able to at least partially put this perception to the test.  The Survey was able to create a study that could be mapped on the county level and provide us some key information on high graduation rates, college graduation rates and median household incomes within these counties.

The colours on the map above are created by a combination of three shades.  These shades are described below:

Pink: Measurement of high school graduates.  The deeper the shade of pink, the higher the percentage of high school graduates.

Yellow: Measurement of college graduates.  The deeper the shade of yellow, the higher the percentage of college graduates.Blue: Measurement of the median household income.  The deeper the shade of blue, the higher the median household income.

When you combine these colours, you get a combined measurement of high school graduation rates, college graduation rates and median household income within a given county.  You may notice some counties are almost white in colour while others are almost black.  The white counties are ones that have a lo

w h
igh school graduation rates, a  low college graduation rates and a low median household incomes.  The black counties, on the flipside, have a high high school graduation rate, a high college graduation rate and a high median household income.

What is more interesting are the colours in between.  The blue-ish shades of green highlight a city with a high median household income yet a low college and high school graduation rate.  This would suggest a city that has a lot of highly educated transplants.

Anyways, take a good look at the map.  While it may not fully prove the title of this blog post, it is most certainly a very interesting stud

y.  And please visit this blog postcourtesy of Good.is for more information and a bigger map.

The Great Reset by Richard Florida


Any regular reader of the blog will know that i’m a big fan of the author Richard Florida.  Florida has written a number of outstanding books such as The Creative Classor Who’s Your City?.  Both books have a heavy urban focus and discuss why certain people decide on certain places to live or the new ways in which the current generations choose to live.

For his latest book, The Great Reset, Florida focuses on the recent recession and how it will change our economy and the way we live.  I have currently read half the book and am once again enthralled with the subject matter.  Florida relates our current recession to the last two economic crashes (The Great Depression and the Long Depression of the 1870′s) and discusses how these troubled times often brought about the greatest innovation that helped shape how people would live in the future.

As with any of his other books, Florida discusses a number of different urban issues.  He touches on the decline of the rust belt cities such as Detroit or Buffalo and the reasons for their decline.  Perhaps more intriguing is Florida’s focus on the decline of many of the sun belt cities such as Phoenix or Miami which were almost solely driven by real estate in the last decade.  Now that the recession has hit, property prices in these places have been decimated and unlike cities like San Francisco, Boston or Houston, they don’t have much else to rely on economically.

I will provide another post when I finish the book, but for the time being, I recommend anyone who is a fan of Richard Florida or a fan of social economics to pick up a copy of The Great Reset.

Highlight in Urban Planning: Beijing’s Outdoor Gyms

Photo courtesy of Alex Balfour, London


Here in North America, the concept of an outdoor gym is pretty foreign (I can only think of ‘Muscle Beach’ down in Los Angeles), yet in Beijing, China, outdoor gyms are a common sight.  Since 1998, the government has built approximately 4000 outdoor gyms throughout the city.  These gyms create a free and convenient alternative to the rather expensive and often-inconvenient indoor gyms.

The equipment at these outdoor gyms is rather simple: instead of each machine having it’s own weight stack, these machines use the individual’s own body weight to create resistance.  And apart from the look of the machines (they are generally in bright colours), they look quite similar to what you would find in a normal indoor gym.  You can read more about this excellent urban development here.