To understand how far ordinary Chinese have been priced out of their country’s property market, you need to look not upwards at the Beijing’s shimmering high-rise skyline, but down, far below the bustling streets where nearly 20m people live and work.
There, in the city’s vast network of unused air defence bunkers, as many as a million people live in small, windowless rooms that rent for £30 to £50 a month, which is as much as many of the city’s army of migrant labourers can afford.
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Such vast discrepancies between house prices and earnings are creating social and economic difficulties for China’s government – the discontented poor can’t find a decent place to live while the rich look to store their wealth in a speculative, bubble-prone property market. Not for nothing did Li Daokui, an adviser to China’s central bank, tell the World Economic Forum in Davos last week that rising property prices were the “biggest danger” to China’s economy.
Phi Beta Iota: Underground living makes a great deal of sense, as does undersea living. Both are design opportunities, among the most important of which is the opportunity to eliminate the need for massive centralized energy, water, and sewage infrastructures. What we are doing above ground is unaffordable and unsustainable.