Why brand new cities across the world are still empty



Some of the most gorgeous and vibrant places on Earth are old and even ancient cities, modernized little by little to reflect layers of history.

Brand new cities, though sparkling with promise, can be quick to build but slow to populate; devoid of culture and more importantly, people.

Solving problems

With urban populations expected to nearly double by 2050built from scratch<

The from-scratch, brand new 21st century city is often designed with utopia in mind, utilizing green energy and technology for cleaner, low-impact living.


This is fantastic in theory, but in practice a bit more complicated. After all, there are many variables that determine a city’s success, beyond design — and these don’t always materialize as envisioned.

Overnight cities

There’s no better example of brand new cities than China’s new “overnight” metropolises, which have been popping up like daisies to accommodate an influx of city-bound migrants.

China’s building boom has produced 600 new cities since 1949, most of which have been built since the 80s and kicked into high gear in the 2000s. The result is what many refer to as “,” as hundreds of newly-built regions remain vacant and underpopulated.

As it turns out, convincing people to move to new cities is not so easy: despite the ease of building, populations need time to grow and flourish. The current situation, still anticipating population and economic growth as fuel, has resulted in quiet roads and spotless steel resembling something out of a dystopian fantasy.

Not just China

Waiting for culture

These idealistic, smart and brand new cities of the future, though different, share common challenges that only time may overcome (if they can be overcome at all.)

One of these factors is cost, as new cities are expensive investments that not all countries can afford. But even when complete they often drive up the cost of living, making them less attractive to potential residents, and completely unaffordable to those nearing poverty — those who suffer most from the problems these cities aim to solve.


Another problem is the artificiality of brand new cities, which can make them not only undesirable, but less adaptable than cities with more history. According to the BBC:

“The truly great cities that have thrived over centuries and even millennia – Rome, London, Shanghai among them – have done so because they have developed largely organically and with all strands of their complex lives woven together, if not ideally then intimately and humanely.”

It’s due to the inorganic, planned and stylized origins that brand new cities suffer initially from a lack of community and soul, so to speak. “First you have to create an economy, then a community,” Lavasa’s architect said of this in an interview. “Soul is something that the city develops over time.”

In other words, these cities may start out as shells, but when people come — as population rates indicate is inevitable, should they be able to afford it — they can breathe life into the architectural ghosts, and create a true vibrancy not captured by design.