They literally have whole cities just lying around idle. I mean, Spain's got one, sure, but they have several. The economy never developed sufficiently to employ people in jobs that would permit them to live in developed cities in a capitalist society... so the places rot.
You are quoting gloating "China is fallin - see?" populist Daily Mail-grade articles which have little to no relevance to reality.
I.e. OMG LOOK AT THIS GHOST CITY! Silly Chinese peoples. Don't they know any thing? Their stupid, stupid brains.
Meanwhile, in reality...
It's a case of combined schadenfreude over someone's perceived failure and a situation akin to when a small turnip farmer from Lower Bumfuck comes to a BigCityTM and starts despairing at the sight of a construction yard which will surely fail cause there is no chance that 50-storey building could ever be filled with people.
He could have planted turnips there.
Ordos is actually an entire prefecture. Slightly bigger than South Carolina or Austria (86,752 km2).
Population: ~1.9 million.
Urban population: ~582,544, living in the Dongsheng District.
That region has 16% of all coal reserves in China. And a 2nd highest income-per-capita in China.
It has a textile, petrochemical, car, electricity generating and a building industry - all built on the back of all that coal.
And they are using it to rapidly urbanize the prefecture - pooling all those 1.9 million people in one place.
China is urbanizing RAPIDLY. At the rate of about 1% per year.
How much is 1% out of 1.35 billion people, yearly? About an entire Los Angeles of people looking for home, food, work, running water, electricity... and generally better living conditions than back in their village.
Year after year after year...
So, China is building entire cities from scratch and half coaxing half forcing people to move there.
Not just dropping apartment buildings or giant towers and sand islands that "someone will surely buy into" either.
Those are planned cities with built-in infrastructure (including all those "empty" parks and highways) to support hundreds of thousands of people with tens of thousands pouring yearly into Ordos alone, on a 20-year urbanization plan.
Many of those people coming in quite literally from the fields.
I asked the men where they had lived before moving to their apartments in Kangbashi. One of them, a 56-year-old man named Li Yonh Xiang, spoke up. "I lived here," he said.
Li had been born and raised just steps from the bench where he was sitting. About half of the 90-acre park had belonged to his family; the government bought the land in 2000. "When we were peasants, we lived according to the weather," Li said. "Now I live in a heated building with six floors. The city is very nice. There are many cars and buildings, but the air is very clean."
By stick and by carrot both.
China's urbanization program has been forced into motion by a fiscal policy that all but demands local cities expand to remain economically solvent. According to the World Bank, China's cities must fend for 80 percent of their expenses while only receiving 40 percent of the country's tax revenue, so land sales are often used to make up the difference.
Land is bought by cities at the low rural rate, rezoned as urban, and then sold to developers at the high urban construction land rate. The profits are huge.
One of the main ways that large-scale new areas are stimulated is through the building of university towns
Another strategy in bigger cities is to build a central business district and then force its occupation by movement of the headquarters and offices of state-owned banks and other businesses...
A third strategy for sparking a population in a new area is to move in government offices and offer housing subsides and incentives to the officials and workers to get them to follow their job. Move the feeding trough to get the cows to follow.
And it works.
Some of China's most notorious ghost cities have been attracting considerable numbers of residents, according to a report by Standard Chartered. From 2012 to 2014, they found that Zhengdong New District's occupancy rate doubled, while the population of Zhenjiang's Dantu quadrupled, and houses in Changzhou's Wujin district grew from 20 percent to 50 percent inhabited.
These are not ghost or idle or rotting cities.
This is centralized government foreseeing urbanization.
Cause it's not like hundreds of millions of Chinese will suddenly decide to give up on moving towards a better life in a city and fuck off to live in a forest or in a hut in the desert.
Humans gravitate towards cities. Period.
Foreseeing HUGE urbanization one way or another they are choosing to control how and where to urbanize.
Preemptively guiding it towards sustainable areas by forcing local governments to forgo on profit from gambling on land value while waiting to sell living and commercial space to the highest bidder.
Thus avoiding future overcrowded cities, built on unsustainable resources, with overpriced housing, high crime rates, inadequate health and education resources etc. etc.