Utopian Futurism

A float in the 2009 National Day parade to celebrate 60 years of the People's Republic

On the northwest edge of Beijing is an exhibition center sitting on the site of what will be the Changping District Technology Innovation City. Inside is a scale model of a new development where buses run on special paths, gleaming office towers incorporate nature parks, and trash cans are connected by pipes to a central waste center. As each feature lights up in a different shade of neon, visitors are told how the design of the city itself will spur innovation, protect the environment, promote cultural exchange, and foster happy, peaceful lives.

It’s an impressive display, a commendable vision and, along with many similar projects in just about every major city in China, the recipient of huge government investment and support.

An image for the Green Technology Eco City planned in Tianjin

Chances of success are anyone’s guess; an eco-city project outside Shanghai has struggled, but the high-technology park in Shenzhen has attracted positive accolades. Still, that the government has extra leverage to will success in China—they are mandating 10 major state-run businesses to locate offices in the new Beijing Innovation City—might be enough to overwhelm the usual tendency for things not to go according to plan.

Whatever the ultimate outcome, the plans themselves reflect a hopeful synergy of idealism, technology and planning. It reminds me of other futurist imagery like the 1939 World’s Fair, the Jetsons, and Soviet Utopian Architecture. It’s an image that keeps showing up, perhaps no more apparent than in the CCP’s big push to put a man on the moon and to move from made in China to designed in China.

In 2009 China celebrated 60 years of China with a bigger display than usual for National Day on October 1st. As part of the parade each province made a float. In addition to images of multicultural harmony and the majesty of the working class, many provinces chose to display airplanes, wind turbines, satellites, high-speed trains, and Oz-like cities.

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