Aerial photos of abandoned developments show what happens when cities grow too fast

Christopher MarcinkoskiCiudad Valdeluz, Spain, 2014.

Cities don’t usually pop up out of nowhere. For centuries, urban areas grew in incremental steps as populations blossomed and the economic climate steadily got better. That’s changing.

Speculative urbanisation refers to the phenomenon where developments form at a rapid rate — not in response to demand, but in anticipation of it. In places like China and India, suburban housing compounds, vanity infrastructure projects, and office parks are constructed to generate economic gains, attract urbanites, and project an image of influence and competitiveness.

Over the last decade, architect and urban designer Christopher Marcinkoski has investigated the cultural and economic triggers responsible for speculative urbanisation. His book, “The City That Never Was,” shows what happens when urban developers fall out of touch with reality.

Speculative urbanisation is, essentially, the embodiment of the 'build it, and they will come' mentality. You might think this suggests a forward-thinking approach to growth.

Christopher Marcinkoski
Aeropuerto Central Ciudad Real, Ciudad Real, Spain, 2014.

But speculative urbanisation is a dangerous instrument. Cities may throw multi-million dollars at infrastructure that will never be used.

Alcorcón South Extension, Alcorcón, Spain, 2002.

The projects come in all shapes and sizes. Opened in 2006 and bankrupt by 2012, the Autopista AP-41 turnpike stretches from Madrid to Toledo, Spain.

Christopher Marcinkoski
AP-41 motorway north of Yuncos, Spain, 2014.

While builders planned for 25,000 vehicles to traverse the AP-41 every day, in 2015 it received fewer than 700 cars daily.

An airport in Ciudad Real, Spain, sat vacant just three years after it was constructed. It cost 400 million euros and served 10 million fewer passengers than expected.

Aeropuerto Central Ciudad Real, Ciudad Real, Spain, 2012

Source: El Economista

'Governments today see urbanisation as a means to an end,' Marcinkoski told Business Insider.

Aeropuerto Central Ciudad Real, Ciudad Real, Spain, 2002.

In his research, he identified a common thread among these abandoned, incomplete, or partially occupied developments. They usually spring from a financial crisis.

Christopher Marcinkoski
Incomplete pedestrian walkway at the Aeropuerto Central Ciudad Real, Ciudad Real, Spain, 2012.

Between 1980 and 2009, Spain rose from a 'peripheral European actor' to the ninth largest economy in the world, according to Marcinkoski. Things were looking up.

Christopher Marcinkoski
El Cañaveral, Spain, 2014.

Seven million homes were erected in Spain during the economic boom. Public venues and tourist centres also popped up to support the anticipated masses.

Christopher Marcinkoski
Interior courtyard of incomplete multifamily housing, 2013.

But the government's population-growth and economic forecasts never materialised. 'The story of Spain is not the story of a few greedy developers,' Marcinkoski said.

Christopher Marcinkoski
Alcorcón South Extension, Alcorcón, Spain, 2002.

'It is the story of a widespread subscription to urbanisation activities as the ultimate panacea for a country's long-standing economic and social ills,' he added.

Ciudad Valdeluz,
 Spain, 2002.

Marcinkoski has explored over 50 incomplete or unoccupied developments in Spain and other parts of the world. His book is packed with aerial images like this one.

Ciudad Valdeluz,
 Spain, 2002.

They imitate the renderings you might find in marketing literature for a new complex. 'You get a gauzy sense of the scale and ambition of the project without any real sense of the actual detail or texture of the place,' he said.

Christopher Marcinkoski
Ensanche de Vallecas, Madrid, 2014.

He hopes his research serves as a warning to urban planners and governments.

Alcorcón South Extension, Alcorcón, Spain, 2002.

'Every time a major speculative event leads to unintended consequences -- fiscal, social, environmental, or otherwise -- the response is a collective sense of 'never again, followed a few years later by a suggestion that 'this time is different' when yet another similar project is proposed,' Marcinkoski told Business Insider.

It might be time for designers and elected officials to rethink how cities expand.

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