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Cities in Miniature

Chongqing, a city of 5 million on the Yangtze River, is one of the fastest growing areas in China. At the Chongqing Urban Planning Exhibition Hall, a 1:750 scale model shows the imagined future Chongqing, a megacity of tower blocks and office towers crowding the peninsula where the Yangtze and Jialan rivers meet. Like similar models in Beijing and Shanghai, the placidly twinkling model does not depict the present Chongqing outside, a gritty city of thick air, muddy water and steep hills of decrepit apartment towers being torn down and replaced at a furious rate, but an idealized stable future of glittering towers and sparkling blue rivers.

The viewer looks down from an encircling balcony on this immense artwork. Though the view is dramatic, it seems lacking in particulars. The lighting does not pick out local landmarks or boulevards familiar to the tourist who has just walked these streets, only generic imaginary skyscrapers of the future. In this way the model provides only the panoramic grand vista without the thrilling perspective shift of matching up miniature geographic details with those experienced in real life.

Other rooms of the exhibition hall are crowded with developers models. Most are planned satellite cities to be built in rings around Chongqing, connected by roads and railways. The brightly colored model towns are more reminiscent of luxury golf course developments than the dusty little towns of the Chinese heartland.

One full wall at the exhibition hall depicts the reservoir then filling behind the Three Gorges Dam. The green line of lights represents the high water mark of the reservoir.

Underneath the plexiglass, the contours and flooded towns of the wild Yangtze can be seen. Up above are the new towns and modern roadways built for relocated residents. After wandering the many rooms of perfectly crafted development models, this simple model of present reality seemed far more interesting.

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