I’ve written previously about Jeff Blackard and his alluring urban development projects in Texas, which attempt to emulate the function and style of old world villages in a functionally modern setting. The success of Adriatica shows the demand for this kind of project
The replica European cities in China are bizarre examples of what happens when you mix an authoritarian government with some creative inspiration. Though Tianducheng, the replica of Paris in China’s Zhejiang Province was thought to be a ghost town, it has since filled with residents and undergone multiple expansion developments. The end result is a smog filled Parisian-Chinese hybrid of a neighborhood which residents seem to enjoy.
Then there are the replicas of London, Venice, Florence, New York, Jackson Hole WY and many more which are equally strange and also pretty awesome.
This has been done in America not only by Blackard Global, but also famously on the Las Vegas strip. Cheesy? Myabe, but imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and breaks the monotony that occurs when everything in a country starts to look the same. Maybe Chinese people were getting tired of looking at this:
From an American perspective, these densely packed rows of massive apartment buildings are quite striking, but admittedly look a little depressing to live in. The sheer demand for housing in a country as populated as China results in a lot of utilitarian design, which is why projects like these replicas are likely such a breath of fresh air for citizens that are able to move there.
This same phenomenon is occurring in The United States where beautiful cities around the world offer inspiration for alternatives to our own version of urban monotony.
Some variation of this exists in every state, making suburbia synonymous with boredom for many Americans. People come from all over the world to visit the beautiful old cities of Europe and feel the energy that comes from being surrounded by these livable works of art, so why is it so weird when someone tries to recreate them?
Often these attempts are entirely commercial, like the in Las Vegas casinos or Disney World. Even functioning towns can feel like theme parks sometimes, as is the case in Vail Colorado, a beautiful ski resort town that looks like a village in the Swiss Alps. Walking through Vail, one gets the impression that nobody really lives there, aside from a few multi millionaires, perhaps.
This is because most developments that actually mimic the layout of an old European city are done in an attempt to bring in visitors, not residents. Developers see this walkable layout as fit only for those on vacation, believing that Americans will demand ample parking and strict residential zoning for places they will actually want to live. This idea is being challenged bot only by those who are working to recreate old world urban design like Blackard, but in other, more modern projects as well. A prime example of this is the One Santa Fe development, a mixed use development project in the Art’s district in Los Angeles.
While the architectural style hardly conjures thoughts of Paris or London, the dimensions and functionality mimic some of the best aspects of the old cities. Similar developments are popping up all over the country, with people wising up to the fact that walkability is livability. Many Americans get nervous when one of these projects creeps up too close to their neighborhoods, fearing increased density will compromise their quality of life. One prominent example is the Cottonwood Mall redevelopment project in a suburb called Holladay just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. This project has been delayed for years by those who think it sets a precedent that would undermine the spread out nature of the area.
Despite delays, construction is currently underway and progress has been made in putting the space to good use. This won’t be the last development to face the wrath of the NIMBYs, but progress rarely comes easy.
Whether it’s building a literal replica of Paris in China or just borrowing a few ideas to make better subdivisions, developers taking inspiration from the world’s great cities is just as important as a musician listening to the great musical artists of the past. We have a lot of relearning to do in order to transform our gas guzzling sprawled out cities into walkable, livable communities. Luckily the blueprints are already there and we can look to the rest of the world for examples of what works. If we want to build an environment people will love, why not emulate the places that residents already do.
By Dan Goodman