This website is designed to create a live database for Phantom Urbanism, defined as: urban housing projects, over one square kilometer in size, which are built but fail to become at least 50% occupied within the first year of completion. Through this website’s submit function, visitors are encouraged to expand the existing database according to the criteria prescribed above.
This research began in the Spring of 2018 as part of the Harvard’s Graduate School of Design’s options studio titled Phantom Urbanism taught by Reinier DeGraaf and Ricardo Solar. The studio visited Phantom Urbanism projects in Luanda and used these examples as starting point for the research. The original database generated by students of the studio, analyzed 50 projects around 20 countries (G20) and identified three common trends which were seen as symptomatic to all Phantom Urbanism projects: economic failure, physical failure, and political failure. Our research found it was often a combination of these three symptoms which prevented these projects from attracting new residents.
Two major categories exist within this group, those projects which in simple terms ran out of money or became insolvent before they were fully built, and projects which failed due to a mismatch between the cost of the units and the number of true residents who were able to afford the units. In the case of Zango 8000 in Angola, oil for infrastructure agreements between China and the Angola government, meant that projects depended on the high price of oil to be completed. With the recent drop in the price of oil in 2012, the Angolan government had allegedly defaulted on payments to the Chinese construction company which had therefore not completed the key infrastructure in the project. In the example of Nova Cidade de Kilamba, in Angola, the apartments were initially sold at a price far higher than the median income, for a middle class that did not exist. Without proper financing mechanisms in place, people in need of housing could not afford to live in these new developments.
These projects fail due to the lack of basic infrastructure necessary to attract or sustain inhabitants, lack of basic services, lack accessibility, or poor construction. Some projects like Kilamba in Luanda, were built far from city centers, and without the necessary transportation infrastructure to connect the new “Centrality” to the city center of Luanda, where most jobs exist. In this case, a train which was supposed to connect Kilamba to central Luanda was never built. Although Kilamba did eventually become inhabited, its physical remoteness remains a problem with its residents. Other places like Zango III, also in Angola, remain uninhabited due to their remote location and lack of running water. In projects like Colinas de Santa Fe in Mexico, poor construction done without proper oversight meant housing units have become structurally unstable or impossible to inhabit after only a few months of construction.
Often it is a lack of planning from government entities and the adoption of outdated models of urbanization which lead to the inevitable demise of many projects. In Luanda it was the political hubris to build one Million homes by 2020 without the right body to oversee the planning process which lead to many projects being built without the input and consideration for the residents which would ultimately inhabit these new developments. Although more difficult to identify, ulterior motives, such as foul play are often at fault in the failure of many projects.
(It is important to note that due to the nature of this database it is possible that some of the projects on this website, are either no longer vacant, or might never have been vacant. Most projects in the original database were found through online media research, except for those projects that were visited by the studio on Luanda. It is also possible that false or outdated reporting could lead projects being mislabeled as Phantom. For this reason, users are encouraged to use the information on this website with discretion, and to check the latest reporting on individual projects.)
The original website was designed by the students of the Harvard Phantom Urbanism 2018 students: Yue Shao, Eileen Xie, Chang Gao. Further development of the website was done by Xiao Zhang.