It’s no secret the Chinese wrote the book on knock-offs, but did you know they copy whole towns these days? Thames Town, in Shanghai, is a replica of small English town complete with everything you might expect, except the people.
“I wanted the properties to look exactly the same as those in the United Kingdom. I think English properties are very special. When we decide to learn from others, we should not make any improvements or changes.” That’s what James Ho, the head of Shanghai Hengde Real Estate, the company in charge of building Thames Town, told Reuters back in 2006, when the weird settlement was inaugurated. The buildings of Thames Town copy the real ones in England so closely that complaints have been filed by English pub owners, and this genuine British look was exactly what was supposed to draw people to this place. Only, like many other ambitious and expensive Chinese projects, Thames Town failed to impress a lot of people and is now virtually a ghost town in Shanghai, the city that drive’s China’s economy.
Photo: Marc van der Chijs
Located near the last stop of Line 9, Thames Town opened its gates in 2006, as part of Shanghai’s One City, Nine Towns project, as a satellite settlement designed to house around 10,000 people in low-rise apartments and classic English houses. As the name suggests, it was supposed to be a piece of London right in China, complete with cobbled streets, red telephone booths, street names like Oxford or Queen, a Gothic cathedral, and of course, a fake Thames river. The architects and construction workers did their job, Thames Town really looks English, but with all the money invested in marketing, the place never really took off. Except for a handful of people who actually live there and the visitors who come to take their picture taken with the English surroundings, Thames Town is a ghost town.
But surely there must be some Chinese fascinated by Western civilization willing to live in a place like Thames Town, right? Well, probably, but after Shanghai Hengde priced the villas and houses at between $600,000 and $750,000 for 307 – 377 square meters, there weren’t very many takers. Apartments are a little cheaper, but at $750 per square meter they aren’t exactly affordable for the middle class Chinese. They say developers spent around $300 million building Thames Town, and never got the profits they dreamed of. There are others who say the properties were all snapped up as investments by businessmen who are now trying to sell them, which would explain all the “for sale” ads in almost every window.
Photo: Marc van der Chijs
As we mentioned, Thames Town isn’t the only monumental Chinese investment that failed. Ordos, known as the empty city is a state of the art settlement that remained practically empty because people don’t want to move away from their businesses, and the world’s biggest shopping mall, in Dongguan, is 99% deserted despite significant investments in marketing. Now the Chinese have completed a replica of a picturesque Austrian Town. Maybe this will work…