The East Is Orange


The New York Times' Elisabeth Rosenthal visits Orange County, China:

There is Sun City, a half-built gated community with echoes of the desert. Then the tidy homes of Orange County come into view. Finally, you drive through a stone portal, past advertisements showing men fly-fishing in cowboy hats, pulling up before the impressive mansions of Watermark-Longbeach, the epicenter of faux L.A. in China.

"I liked it immediately—it is just like a house in California," exulted Nasha Wei, a former army doctor turned businesswoman, sitting on a white suede banquette in the four-bedroom home in Orange County (China) she moved into this year.

Bits of American geography are popping up all over Beijing, the latest fashion in real estate marketing and sales. Soho, Central Park, Palm Springs and Manhattan Gardens are among recent developments….In many instances, the name is just an American location tacked on to typical upmarket Chinese apartments. But at Orange County and Longbeach, developers have promised clients the real deal—so long as they can afford the minimum half million-dollar price tag….

So far, Orange County is a suburb without suburbia, surrounded by villages and fields. But that is sure to change. It is less than 10 miles from the site of the 2008 Olympic Games, and the area is scheduled for rapid development. Already, two newly completed six-lane superhighways that run nearby are giving it more of that L.A. feel, with just one difference: there is no traffic—yet.

The story is three years old, but it was linked on bOING bOING today, along with some photos, so I figure it's fair game. A couple decades ago, Richard Louv described America's high-priced private communities as "capitalist communes." It's a sign of the times that they're now taking root in nominally communist China.

Elsewhere in Reason: Robert Nelson considered the future of the private city in our April issue. I looked at the history of suburban utopianism in the January 2003 Reason (and posted a follow-up on my personal blog). Sam Staley reviewed some more suburban history in 2001. And I wrote a brief item about the proprietary communities of Dubai last year.