There has been a staggering amount of construction in Kunming's Chenggong county over the past few years. During this building frenzy, vast plots of agricultural land have yielded to the rise of a new city located roughly 20 kilometers south-southeast of downtown Kunming.
Chenggong's story is not an unfamiliar one in China. Faced with a mandate to modernize densely packed and poorly planned cities, officials have decided to simply build a new city next door.
The same phenomenon produced Shanghai's sprawling ultramodern Pudong district. And it is now playing out in Kunming and other cities such as Guizhou's capital, Guiyang, which is building a massive new urban district to the north of its downtown.
There probably wasn't much question about where Kunming's new district would go. The city is hemmed in by mountains from the west to east and Dianchi Lake to the south, and the flat piece of land that runs along Dianchi's eastern shore southeast of downtown is the most obvious area in which to expand.
In May of 2003, the Yunnan Provincial Standing Committee released a strategy statement called "Modern New Kunming" (现代新昆明) that called for a Chenggong New District that would serve as a center for government, education, logistics, exhibitions and emerging industries and culture, among other things.
Up until that time the area was mostly polytunnels. These days, northern Chenggong is home to the sprawling reincarnation of the Luosiwan International Trade City, which was relocated from a much smaller downtown location last year. Next door is the new South Long Distance Bus Station and the metro line that will link Chenggong to downtown Kunming is being built outside. Chenggong is also planned to one day be home to Kunming's main railway station.
Headed south, Chenggong is littered with huge new high-rise housing developments. These are joined by a mass of new government administrative buildings, several brand new expansive university campuses, and a variety of other new buildings, roads, bridges and overpasses – all currently in various degrees of completion.
GoKunming went down to have a look at Chenggong's progress last week and found that much of the district, even areas where the apartment buildings appear to be completed, retains the feeling of a ghost town, with few cars and fewer pedestrians. This was especially true the further south we traveled away from downtown and near the new university district.
Here's what we found: