Five years ago, the drive from the airport to downtown Chongqing–a city deep in the heart of China–passed fields of farmland. Now, it’s possible to drive half an hour seeing nothing but high-rises.
“Basically, the countryside is being eaten by the city,” says photographer Tim Franco, who started documenting the changes in Chongqing in 2009.
“I always wanted to capture urban development in China, but I was living in Shanghai, and I felt everybody already talks about Shanghai,” he says. “I really wanted to see the whole process of a secondary city in China trying to become one of the biggest cities in China.”
The city is part of China’s larger plan to move around 250 million rural residents to cities over the next decade. The changes in Chongqing have led to a new kind of urban farmer: people who don’t know what else to do in the city.
“Older farmers who have no idea what it is to live in a city, and basically have no education at all, are being moved to the city, and they have no idea what to do,” says Franco. “They’re living in an apartment and given some basic money by the government, very little, and they have no way to adapt. The only thing they know how to do is to grow vegetables, so some of them just go back to doing that.”
For others, especially those who live in slums in the city, the changes are seen as positive–even when historic buildings are being bulldozed every day.
“It’s easy as a Westerner to be shocked seeing really beautiful old buildings being destroyed, and whole districts being removed,” Franco says. “But actually when you talk to people living there, it’s an incredible improvement of quality of life.” People who might have lived in a stone house without windows suddenly have a modern apartment.
Since Franco began the project, the changes have made some areas almost unrecognizable. “This year, two of my favorite old neighborhoods were completely flattened,” he says. “I was walking through small alleyways on my last visit, and then I went back and it’s disappeared, a giant pile of rocks.”
Franco has collected his photographs in a new book called Metamorpolis. Though the project is over, he plans to keep going back to see how the city continues to evolve. “It’s an amazing, fast-forward urbanization of a city,” he says. “It’s interesting to see where it’s going to go, and how it’s going to change, and if it will be reorganized.”