Wednesday, August 20, 2014

American Exports

Bad ideas.
You’ll find the original Rancho Santa Fe community nestled between golf courses and tennis clubs in sunny southern California. The version of it that I know best, however, is in the suburbs of Shanghai: this themed Chinese subdivision, modelled on the posh Californian suburb, features the same Mission-style homes with red tile roofs and the same lush green lawns encircling driveways mounted with basketball nets. There’s at least one car in each garage, terracotta planters overflowing with flowers, and a clubhouse with tennis courts and swimming pools to soothe the stress of a long day at the office. And just in case the connection isn’t clear enough, China’s neighbourhood even has a familiar name: its developers called it “Rancho Santa Fe”.

But as I sat in a beat-up Buick not long ago, snarling through bumper-to-bumper traffic in a slow trek from Rancho Santa Fe, in the suburbs, to Shanghai’s city centre, it was clear that Chinese developers had done more than duplicate California’s Mediterranean-themed architecture. McMansion communities like Rancho Santa Fe have also helped recreate the golden state’s car headaches and endless sprawl, thanks to planners and policymakers who have repeated the urban design sins of developed countries. For China, California dreaming has turned into a nightmare.