Guest lecture: Evaluating cities' vitality and identifying ghost cities in China with emerging geographical data


With the rapid urbanization of China, there is unneglectable vacant housing from recent residential projects. A vast number of media reports related to ghost cities in China are derived from officially released statistical yearbooks or field surveys limited to different parts of the country. The understanding of ghost cities in China is then rather limited. In the light of big/open data, we are able to profile ghost cities of China based on 535,523 recent project-level residential developments from 2002-2013. We use the national-wide and million magnitude road junctions, points of interest and location based service records of 2014/2015 for measuring the morphological, functional and social vibrancy of each residential project. We then aggregate the project level evaluation results into the city level and thirty ghost cities are then identified by comparing the residential projects’ vibrancy in the old (developed before or in 2000) and new (developed after 2000) urban areas in each city. Our profiling results illustrate the big picture of China’s past residential developments, and then of ghost cities. We find the average vibrancy of residential projects in new urban areas is only 8.8% of that in old urban areas, denoting the potential existence of ghost cities in newly developed areas in Chinese cities. We have also benchmarked our identified ghost cities with existing rankings, the Baidu searching engine and night-time light images. Although we admit that ghost cities may exist in the particular urbanizing phase of China and that some ghost cities now may be well developed in future, this study provides a thorough evaluation on the ghost city condition in China. This may shed light on policy implications for Chinese urban development.

Dr Long will introduce his latest research on understanding Chinese city system with new data and the research network Beijing City Lab supported with plenty time after his main talk on “ghost cities”.


Dr Ying Long

  • Associate Professor and PhD Supervisor, School of Architecture, Tsinghua University, China
  • Founding Director, Beijing City Lab (

Ying Long, Ph.D., is now an associate professor in School of Architecture, Tsinghua University, China. His research focuses on urban planning, quantitative urban studies, and applied urban modeling. He has an education background of both environmental engineering and city planning. Before he joined Tsinghua University, he has been worked for Beijing Institute of City Planning as a senior planner for eleven years. Familiar with planning practices in China and versed in the international literature, Dr. Long’s academic studies creatively integrates international methods and experiences with local planning practices. He has published over one hundred journal papers and led over twenty research/planning projects. Dr. Long is also the founder of Beijing City Lab (BCL,, an open research network for quantitative urban studies.

Beijing City Lab

The Beijing City Lab (BCL) is a research network, dedicated to studying, but not limited to, China’s capital Beijing. The Lab focuses on employing interdisciplinary methods to quantify urban dynamics, generating new insights for urban planning and governance, and ultimately producing the science of cities required for sustainable urban development. The lab's current mix of planners, architects, geographers, economists, and policy analysts lends unique research strength.


Research Institute of Smart and Green Cities