City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

14 Cities: Darwin S.E.Z.

Written in



Part of the 14 Cities series:

"By 2050, Darwin had effectively freed itself of its moorings in NT and was floating north, culturally and politically at least.

Through a deal concocted between the Chinese and Australian governments in 2032, Darwin became a city-state ‘special economic zone’ free of national sovereignty but under Chinese political control, almost like a reversal of Hong Kong’s position under British rule.

This meant the city was free to grow rapidly, becoming a thriving entrepôt exporting Australian resources and importing Chinese creativity, though its alliance with both the vast cities of Singapore and Jakarta are also key. Thus it comprises part of the South-East Asia megalopolis, a string of city-states running up to Hong Kong.

The primary language is Mandarin, with streets signs in both hanzi and pinyin, though Cantonese and Australian English are also spoken. Unencumbered by Australian-style planning policies, the skyline soars vertically with gleaming skyscrapers of organic forms, whilst the horizontal expansion is through a high-density sprawl, high-speed subways connecting the suburbs, and a vast high-speed rail bridge connecting Darwin S.E.Z. directly to Indonesia.

The city remains a curious hybrid of Australian and Chinese cultures — with Casuarina Beach clear of box jellyfish for the first time in its history thanks to Chinese technological know-how, surfing is popular."

Notes: Having just returned from Beijing shortly before writing this series, I was particularly smitten with the idea of an Australian city subjected to Chinese 'can do' planning regimes rather than NIMBYism. And as Australia's economy is currently viable largely due to its resource business with China, I was interested in the fanciful idea of a 'special economic zone' as per Shenzhen, but on the Australian mainland – almost a contemporary reversal of the strategic role Hong Kong played when a protectorate of the British Empire, and so not without irony in a former colony. See also the 'new city state' idea surfacing for the umpteenth time here. And this was the idea that seemed to lend itself to the eventual collage most easily.


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