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China does urban living right

'Sidewalk cities' provide great model for U.S.
Published on Sep 29, 2006

In China, single-family homes are rare, and the vast majority of people live in what Americans would charitably call high-rise apartment blocks or, put less delicately, projects. As dismal as these may sound (and as dismal as they sometimes appear), the neighborhoods that form around these Chinese projects really work. They're far from tidy and seldom beautiful, but on the whole they're livelier, safer and more inviting at all hours of the day than any American equivalent. They are as successful as most American housing projects have been catastrophic. Why? For one, the Chinese are not hamstrung by the sort of fanatically segregated zoning that has made so much of America a vacant no man's land after hours. In China, the street levels of residential buildings (not to mention office buildings and sometimes even factories) are customarily lined with a whole panoply of stores and workshops, a tradition handed down from millenia of mercantile culture. A few minutes' walk from my second h...

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