Putrajaya isn’t the only field of dreams in this world. Other planned cities have also risen – and fallen – in the belief that if you built it, they will come. Sometimes, they don’t.
Put your denim jackets away. Hard Rock Café Putrajaya will not be opening anytime soon, despite the inventor of Putrajaya declaring that he modelled the planned city after Paris and not the holy city of Medina as some people had thought.
Putrajaya was apparently envisioned as the physical embodiment of Malaysia’s political, economic and moral ideals, which to conservatives and religious high grounders must do without the excessive vicissitudes of “Western culture”, like rock ‘n’ roll music. But this obsessive-compulsive approach to urban planning isn’t unique to Malaysia.
To see just how far we’ve come in our attempts to organise humanity on a grand scale, here are six other planned cities from around the world – those that made it, those in the making and those that came undone.
Navi Mumbai, India
Built in 1972 on the mainland to decongest the urban monstrosity of Mumbai, Navi Mumbai – or New Mumbai – has absorbed more than just human traffic in the past 40 years. Developed by the City And Industrial Development Corporation, 22,694 hectares of land consisting of 95 villages were consolidated into a commercial and residential township, with road and railway infrastructure that improves on the old city.
The venture proved a success, especially when the state of Maharashtra moved its administrative buildings to the new city, making it the political centre of the region. It now has the busiest port in India and one of the best cricket stadiums. Though a 2011 census puts the official population at 1.12 million, it’s believed that the number is closer to 18.4 million, making it the largest planned city in the world.
The city’s name loosely translated means “royal city of the sun”, which is rather fitting as it’s been the administrative capital of Myanmar since 2006. That said Naypyidaw’s birth in 2002 was shrouded in secrecy. Even families of government servants who moved from Yangon to the new city in 2005 weren’t allowed to enter. It’s a very different story now.
Home to about a million people, the city is Burma’s third largest and one of the 10 fastest-growing cities in the world. Naypyidaw hosted last year’s SEA Games to showcase its spanking sports facilities, including a 30,000-capacity football stadium. Nevertheless, while the government’s top officials live in the city’s 50 mansions, most of the residents live in poverty outside the city limits.
Rawabi, which means “the hills” in Arabic, is the first planned city in the West Bank – the first new Palestinian city to be built since 1967. Founded in 2010 and funded by Palestinian multimillionaire Bashar al-Masri and Qatari company LDR to the tune of US$1 billion (RM3.3 billion), Rawabi aims to house up to 40,000 residents.
Due to its proximity to Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv, Israeli protestors have targeted the upcoming city. But a laurel wreath was extended to Rawabi when the Jewish National Fund donated 3,000 saplings to a greening initiative to grow a forest around the city. Here’s hoping that Rawabi can be a haven of peace in the besieged land.
Oyala, Equatorial Guinea
Dreamed up by the notorious President Teodoro Obiang, who ascended to the post after ousting his uncle in 1979, Oyala – also called Djibloho – is under construction in the middle of a jungle. Started in 2011, it’s scheduled to open in 2020 and replace the current capital of Malabo. The city will have a golf course, luxury hotels, a university and is expected to house 200,000 people.
However, the project has been dogged by the President’s megalomaniac tendencies – entire buildings have been demolished because he didn’t like them. Oyala has also faced criticism from international observers. Despite Obiang splurging billions of his country’s petroleum profits – Equatorial Guinea is Africa’s third biggest oil producer – on his pet project, most of the population of 800,000 work for less than US$1 (RM3.30) a day.
King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia
All across the Middle East, instant cities are sprouting like bunnies out of a magician’s hat. One of the most ambitious is King Abdullah Economic City, a vanity project announced in 2005 by the city’s namesake King Abdullah Abdulaziz Al Saud. Built to alleviate congestion from the existing hubs of Jeddah, Mecca and Medina, the rising city covers 173 sq km and is expected to cost US$86 billion (RM282 billion). Calling it colossal is putting it mildly.
When completed by 2020, the city will boast 260,000 apartments, 56,000 villas, 120 hotels with 250,000 rooms, 18,000 students on a university campus, an industrial zone with 2,700 factories, a high-speed train line and the largest port in the Red Sea. It’s believed that the development will lead to the creation of a million jobs. Watch out, Dubai.
Kangbashi New Area, Inner Mongolia, China
Sadly, not all planned cities make it. Kangbashi New Area, a massive urban project in Ordos, Inner Mongolia, was powered by an oil boom and launched in 2003 to spur the growth of the region. It was meant to house a million people, but as of 2012 less than 30,000 people had moved in. Buildings and streets stand empty in the desert city, shop fronts remain vacant after a decade, and the city’s theatre puts up two shows a year.
Kangbashi would have disappeared off the map if not for an ironic twist. Its failure has made it equally famous thanks to international media reports that cite it as China’s largest ghost city. The price of this epic facepalm? An unbelievable 1.1 million yuan (RM600 billion).