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Adam Minter

China Is Falling Out of Love With Skyscrapers

Modernization and economic development created a mad rush to erect tall buildings. Restrictive new construction rules now focus on livability and quality of life. 

It looks great from a distance.

It looks great from a distance.

Photographer: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Nothing ruins a Chinese neighborhood like a vacant skyscraper owned by a bankrupt real estate developer. But Hefei, the capital of Anhui Province, has something worse: the first floors of a building intended to be one of the world's tallest. Its owner, cash-strapped China Evergrande Group, has suspended construction while it tries to avoid a default that would shake China's economy.

Even if Evergrande manages to dig itself out of its financial hole, the physical one will remain. Earlier this week, China's chief economic planning agency announced that it was severely restricting the construction of tall buildings  to improve urban environments, while China's housing agency ordered developers to focus on low-rise residences. These are monumental shifts for China, which long prioritized the construction of tall buildings at the expense of safety, livability and affordable housing.