These are the most ambitious megaprojects
in development around the world.
No other country, with the exception of China
and perhaps India, is undergoing a bigger
building boom than Turkey.
The Turkish government is overseeing a $400
billion spending spree on infrastructure that
it hopes will lay the groundwork for a rapid
The impressive list of projects includes:
The $49 billion Istanbul New Airport that’s
about half complete.
It’ll replace the 93 year old Ataturk Airport
and, with a passenger capacity of 150 million
a year, it will be one of the planet’s busiest.
Istanbul’s advantageous geographical location
“Istanbul, as a hub, is definitely much
better location than Doha and Dubai, or Abu
Dhabi, so we have these certain advantages
compared to other countries.”
The $5 Billion Istanbul Finance Center will
centralize Turkish investment banking, much
like New York City’s Wall Street does for
the United States.
A 48 km canal is being built alongside the
Bosphorous strait that divides not only the
city of Istanbul, but the continents of Europe
At a cost of $10 billion, even Turkey’s
President calls it a “crazy project.”
Then there’s the $45 billion high speed
rail system that at 10,000 km will be the
longest in Europe and the second-longest in
the world behind China.
The $6.5 billion Istanbul-Izmir Motorway Project
is a six-lane highway that will connect the
eastern edge of Istanbul to the Izmir province
on the Aegean coast.
Turkey will become a regional energy hub thanks
to a $10 billion natural gas pipeline that
will connect Azerbaijan’s production facilities
with consumers in Europe.
Adding to its energy portfolio will be a $5.5
billion refinery on its west coast that, when
finished, will be the largest in the country.
Turkey is also beefing up its armed forces,
spending $7 billion to cluster its defense
and aerospace industries so it can increase
production and exports to the international
It has also committed more than $1 billion
to develop an independent Turkish space program
with the goal of launching 20 satellites into
orbit by 2020.
All of these projects come on the heels of
the completion in 2016 of both the Yavuz Sultan
Selim Bridge and the Eurasia Tunnel, two Megaprojects
passing over and under the Bosphorus strait.
But the country’s main project is much more
At a cost of more than $200 billion, Turkey
will demolish and reconstruct seven million
buildings throughout the country.
Because the majority of structures do not
meet basic safety standards in a region prone
to devastating earthquakes.
Government edicts state that the need to implement
the urban renewal plan overrules all existing
laws that would’ve prevented people’s
houses and apartment buildings from being
The reasons for the MegaProject boom are complicated.
Yes, Turkey needs to modernize, and the quickest
way to do it is for the government to have
a strong hand in guiding the nation toward
But it’s also a blatant attempt by the Turkish
President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan – in power
since 2003 – to maintain control over the
country by promising economic success.
Not only is Erdoğan raising legitimate questions
about corruption, his strongman approach is
trampling the rights of individuals and local
On top of that his projections are unrealistically
Erdoğan says the country can become a top
10 world economy by 2023–which happens to
be the 100th anniversary of the modern Turkish
republic, and would mark 20-years of his rule.
A simple look at where Turkey currently sits
on the list of countries ranked by their GDP
reveals that it’s economy would have to
more than double in less than 6 years, while
the economies of Canada and South Korea completely
That’s simply not going to happen.
This high-stakes game was laid bare a couple
months ago when Erdoğan narrowly escaped
succumbing to a coup that would have seen
the country descend into violent internal
conflict and even civil war.
Sharing its southern border with Syria and
Iraq is only adding to the country’s instability.
All of these factors make Turkey one of the
most fascinating countries to keep a close
eye on in the next decade, and is why we led
off this series, our latest profiling the
world’s future Megaprojects, focused on
the building boom originating in Istanbul.
NASA’s three-phase plan to put humans on
Mars by the year 2040 proves that not all
mega-projects are earthbound.
Step one is for Lockheed Martin to complete
the $20 billion Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle.
It will be the first modern spacecraft capable
of carrying humans beyond where the International
Space Station currently exists in low earth
orbit, to reach asteroids and—eventually—the
For these trips, astronauts will need a vehicle
that can support them for extended periods
of time, while protecting them and their equipment
from radiation, extreme temperatures, and
But the NASA/Lockheed collaboration has competition.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has grabbed headlines
with his announcement that its Dragon 2 spacecraft
will fly two private citizens on a five day
trip around the moon and back.
The target launch for the mission is 2018.
Although that timeline may be overly optimistic
given that SpaceX has not yet flown a single
manned mission, NASA—in a statement—praised
its industry partner for “reaching higher,”
and vowed to work closely with SpaceX to ensure
it safely “returns the launch of astronauts
to U.S. soil.”
For his part, in deference to his company’s
close partnership with the American space
agency, Musk said he’s willing to bump the
two space tourists—who’ve already paid
a significant deposit—to a later flight.
“NASA always has first priority…So if NASA
decides to have the first mission of this
nature be a NASA mission, then of course NASA
would take priority.”
But regardless of who gets around the moon
first, the big prize is Mars.
75,000,000 km from Earth, it’s 195x farther
than the moon.
To study the effects on the human body of
spending months in space, astronauts Scott
Kelly and Mikhail Korniyenko spent over 11
months living on the ISS.
Kelly actually grew two inches during his
prolonged time in microgravity.
He shrunk back to his normal height two days
after returning to earth.
NASA is also using Mars Mission simulations—in
which research subjects spend months together
in Hawaii isolated from the outside world—to
figure out the best way to handle the unique
psychological burdens of the long journey.
And that’s where the mission to Mars starts
to run into serious challenges.
One look at the Orion and Dragon crafts reveals
that even if the scientists and engineers
get everything else right about the journey,
there simply is not enough room for multiple
human beings to live together for a nine month
each-way trip to Mars—unless the mission
is to drive the astronauts completely insane.
NASA’s going to tackle this problem in the
next decade by capturing an asteroid and placing
it in orbit around the moon, and then docking
with it and collecting samples.
This mission will be a test run for longer
trips away from Earth, deep space walking
techniques, and Solar Electric Propulsion,
all of which will need to be perfected before
any human mission to Mars can move forward.
NASA calls the third and final phase of putting
astronauts on Mars Earth Independent.
Thanks to successful missions like the Curiosity
rover, we’ve already begun to learn a ton
about potential exploration zones.
The next NASA rover is scheduled to touch
down in 2020, and will have company.
Europe, China, India, the United Arab Emirates,
and SpaceX all plan on taking advantage of
the summer 2020 launch window—when the planets
will be at their shortest distances from one
another—to deliver rovers and orbiters to
the Red Planet.
The 2020 rover will help NASA figure out the
entry, descent, and landing techniques needed
to get down to the Martian surface from orbit,
and to learn what’s needed to live off the
NASA is also planning a round-trip robotic
mission that will return to Earth with samples
sometime in the late 2020’s.
But to make that defining moment in human
history happen, when a human foot steps down
on Martian soil, NASA will have to overcome
two massive challenges that could make this
one of the most expensive megaprojects in
human history: designing a spacecraft that
can support a survivable trip to Mars and
back, and designing a propulsion system that
can deliver that craft, and then bring it
Given the daunting challenges, the trip to
Mars seems like the perfect opportunity for
national governments to put aside our differences
and our instincts to compete with each other,
and instead form a global space agency.
That way we can make sure our precious resources
here on Earth are being used most efficiently.
If “one small step for man, one giant leap
for mankind” was true for Neil Armstrong’s
touchdown on the moon, imagine the worldwide
impact of the first step on Mars.
This is Lagos, Nigeria the largest city in
Home to more than 22 million people, it’s
facing a perfect storm of challenges.
So let’s look at how this megacity is trying
The biggest challenge Nigeria faces is a population
pyramid that’s overwhelmingly bottom heavy.
61% are younger than 25—that’s a lot of
jobs to create and houses to build in the
This problem is made worse by the extremely
poor condition of the city’s infrastructure.
Badly designed and maintained motorways cause
people to endure agonizing commute times,
and interrupted access to electricity causes
Add in the threat of a rising ocean that’s
steadily eroding the coastline, and the future
of this place looks bleak.
But perspective is relative, so let’s gain
165 years ago Lagos was an island fortress
and one of the principal roots of the slave
trade, until the British navy bombarded it
into submission and abolished the practice.
But slavery wasn’t outlawed in Northern
Nigeria until 1936.
That means any Nigerian older than 85 can
probably still remember slavery, or was a
In 1960, Nigeria gained independence from
But, the country quickly became engulfed in
a civil war that killed as many as 3 million
In the dark aftermath of this bloody conflict
the country had one thing going for it: oil,
which provided a consistent source of income.
But the temptation of controlling all that
black gold attracted deeply corrupt men, and
Nigeria endured decades of violent struggles
between power-mad dictators and military officers.
With just two legitimate presidential elections
under its belt, in 2011 and 2015, Nigeria
has only had six years of truly peaceful,
independent — not completely corrupt — democratic
rule in its entire history.
All this upheaval was amplified by strong
ethnic and religious divisions throughout
So for the federal government to appear legitimate,
the capital had to move away from Lagos to
a more centralized, neutral part of the country.
Following in the footsteps of Brazil’s master-planned
capital, Brasilia, the Nigerians built an
entire city from scratch during the 1980’s.
The relocation of thousands of government
workers drove migration to this new capital,
Abuja, the fastest growing city in the world
from 2000 to 2010.
Unfortunately, while Abuja thrived, Lagos
With the city far away now it became even
easier for deeply corrupt federal officials
to neglect the megacity’s needs.
But the its downward spiral is quickly changing
direction thanks — largely — to one man,
the current governor of the state of Lagos,
Ambode earned his Master’s in accounting
from the University of Lagos and studied abroad
in England, Switzerland, Singapore, and at
the Harvard Kennedy School of Government in
[Osoba]: “Everything about this man is outstanding,
everything about him…
He is someone who does not leave a place without
changing it for the better.”
Now 53 — with a long career serving the
people of Lagos under his belt — Ambode
hit the ground running upon his election in
He immediately began holding regular town
This helped him tailor his plans to best affect
positive change for citizens that they could
see and feel.
He installed a team of competent deputies
who’ve helped him implement his mega-master
plan of targeted micro projects to drastically
improve conditions throughout the city.
Lagosians are already feeling the benefits
of his less than two years in office.
[Citizen of Lagos]: “Today we are happy
because the government have done a perfect
Now we can have a good access roads to get
to our homes.
And you can see business around this area,
they are doing very well.”
By making road fixes his first major task,
Ambode wisely accomplished several important
things that any new leader should immediately
set out to do:
1) He gave his team a series of small, achievable
goals to accomplish, allowing him time to
weed out bad people and fix flawed management
processes that bog down efficiency.
2) He gave himself some time to become comfortable
in his new executive role and familiarize
himself with the levers of power.
And 3) He gained the trust of the people by
doing something simple, but important: completing
a project that everyone wanted, on-time and
Now that his government is working well, Ambode
is well positioned to tackle much more complex
problems like improving the efficiency of
the bus system; building a massive urban rail
system; providing all citizens with uninterrupted
access to electricity; cleaning up Lagos’
badly polluted environment; partnering with
private industry to try and give all Lagosians
access to affordable food, housing, and health
care; and improving the pay of police, first
responders, and security personnel.
In addition to the construction of several
bridges and other traffic improvements, Lagos
is also installing 6,000 new street lights
and 13,000 Closed Circuit Television (CCTV)
cameras and security sensors for surveillance
and crime prevention.
These efforts are working: Lagos was named
the most security and safety-conscious state
in all of Africa last year, and Ambode was
named Nigerian governor of the year.
By leading the mega-overhaul in the way civil
society conducts itself, Ambode represents
one half of the equation in creating a modern
He also seems perfectly positioned to go on
to serve as President and lead his people
on their quest to claim their rightful place
as Africa’s powerhouse country.
The other half of this modernization equation
rests largely on the success of two key mega-projects
under construction in Lagos and Abuja: Eko
Atlantic, a financial hub that’s being built
on reclaimed land along the coast; and Centenary
City, a gated luxury mini-city outside of
Abuja where elites will live and stay while
conducting business in the capital.
[Builder] “The goal is to establish Lagos
as the financial hub and commercial hub of
the continent of Africa.”
Geographically, Nigeria is centrally-positioned
to lead Africa’s emergence in the second
half of the century, but it must approach
With many parts of Lagos, and the rest of
the country, living in squalor without good
jobs or adequate housing, spending tens of
billions of dollars to build playgrounds for
the rich runs the risk of making the majority
of the Nigerian people feel neglected, and
In fact, the Centenary City project in Abuja
is already tainted by allegations of corruption.
Another challenge facing Lagos is the unstoppable
rising sea level, which will eventually submerge
most of the existing city.
It faces the same dilemma as many other coastal
metropolises around the world: stop building
on land that will likely be completely underwater
by the end of the century and start building
inland, or live for the immediate future by
building where people want to live now, along
I’m confident that you’ll be hearing a
lot more about Nigeria and it’s rising star,
Governor Ambode, as the confronts these challenges
head-on in the years ahead.
The total population of Africa is projected
to roughly quadruple to about 4 billion by
2100, driving the total global population
past 11 billion.
Producing the energy that all these people
will use could obliterate any efforts we’re
now making to battle climate change.
But Africa’s population explosion is also
a tremendous opportunity: because all the
power plants where all these people will get
all their electricity from haven’t been
This means humanity is now being presented
with a once-in-the-lifetime-of-our-species
shot to make our planet’s fastest growing
region leapfrog the dirty fuels of the past,
to embrace a future of clean, renewable energy.
This is a quick look at how that optimistic
vision of the future can become reality.
The residents of Zambia don’t need any reminders
that climate change threatens their way of
The region is suffering its worst drought
in 35 years, that’s big trouble for a country
that gets nearly all of its power from the
force of water passing through three hydroelectric
No water means no electricity, and no electricity
means blackouts that have frequently brought
commerce and productivity to a standstill,
gutting the Zambian economy and causing many
to lose their jobs.
All across Africa, countries are confronting
the same problem: a constant lack-of-power.
Sub Saharan Africa — all 910 million people
— consumes less electricity than the 4.8
million people of Alabama.
Overall, more than half of all Africans have
no access to electricity.
But this is changing, thanks to the emergence
of renewable energy.
The cost of building larger-scale solar panel
and wind turbine farms continues to plummet,
making governments and utilities more likely
to choose them over traditional sources like
hydro, coal, nuclear or natural gas.
As we saw with the water shortage in Zambia
— or the nuclear meltdown a few years ago
after the earthquake in Japan — power stations
of the past are less reliable, more expensive,
far worse for our environment, and slower
So this seems like a no-brainer, Africa needs
to go green, baby!
There’re just three problems.
One, until now planners have lacked the necessary
data to identify where to develop wind and
solar projects that are socially equitable,
have low-environmental impact, and are most
This problem was recently tackled by a groundbreaking
study of 21 countries that combined satellite
and ground measurements with geospatial data
on roads, towns, and existing power lines.
It provides the first blueprint for where
wind and solar projects should be built to
maximize their effectiveness.
The study also revealed Africa’s eye-opening,
untapped potential for renewable energy generation.
There are an estimated 550 million megawatts
of potential solar and wind power spread across
the continent, just waiting to be harvested.
That’s 3,700 times as much electricity as
Africa currently consumes.
That’s so much extra energy, that Africa
should aim to be powered 100% by renewables
It’s even possible for Africa to become
a clean energy exporting superpower by sending
its abundant surpluses of electricity to Europe;
the Middle East, India and the rest of Asia;
and even the Americas.
Of course, this is dependent on overcoming
the second major challenge: the continent’s
completely inadequate power grid.
Modernizing it to connect clean power stations
with cities all over Africa will be a long-term
megaproject costing tens of billions of dollars
in the coming decades.
For fast-growing urban areas — like Lagos,
Cairo, Kinshasa, Mogadishu, and Johannesburg
— uninterrupted electricity is critical
for the emerging industries that will fuel
economic growth and provide jobs for billions.
On the other hand, most Africans currently
live in small villages and towns, so their
energy needs can be met by inexpensive solar
and wind turbine systems that are located
on-site, but are disconnected from the main
The challenge will be connecting cities — where
more and more people are moving — with the
mega-power stations that will often be built
far away, in geographical sweet spots to maximize
the amount of harvestable solar rays and wind
This brings us to the third problem: money.
African governments don’t have much to spare,
so if we’re expecting it to fund this clean
energy transition — one of the most expensive
endeavors in human history — we should just
keep on dreaming.
Organizations like the World Bank understand
In 2015 it created the Scaling Solar program
to help investors partner with African nations
that are looking to go green, but are often
seen as risky places to start a large project.
If ideas like this prove successful, it will
hopefully lead to a huge influx of private
capital in the coming years.
Another strategy is for wealthier nations
to provide the money, understanding that every
time an African country chooses clean over
dirty energy, the entire world is a little
better off in the long run.
The U.N.’s Green Climate Fund is intended
to be the centerpiece for this action.
It hoped to raise hundreds of billions of
dollars by 2020.
But so far it has received just $10 billion
US President Obama transferred $500 million
into the fund in his final week in office,
then handed the government of the world’s
richest country over to a climate change denier,
so it’s unlikely the US will be contributing
more any time soon.
Still, while progress may be held back for
a few years, it is an undeniable fact that
helping Africa go green is best for everyone
in the long-term.
Time will tell if we’re able to seize this
But every single day that passes without action,
every time a baby is born in Africa, the pressure
on governments to pull energy from the ground
increases, and the window of opportunity for
a clean future closes a little bit more.
We love to take sci fi adventures through
space, but the reality of how we’ll someday
explore worlds beyond our solar system will
be much different than the cryogenically-induced
slumbers astronauts take in the movies.
This is how the spacecrafts of the future
will probably look.
Instead of a team of astronauts, it’s cargo
will include tiny sensors, a camera, and a
Instead of rocket fuel, it will be propelled
by a 4-meter-wide sail that will catch concentrated
laser beams so powerful they haven’t been
This most interesting megaproject of the future,
a real Hail Mary, is called Breakthrough Starshot.
To give us our first view of a planet outside
the Solar System.
Last year researchers announced the discovery
of Proxima b, a potentially Earth-like planet
orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri,
part of a triple-star system that’s closest
to our own Sun.
It’s our next-door-neighbor!
This gave interstellar explorers searching
for extraterrestrial life their first truly
appealing target, one that could — theoretically
— be reached in our lifetimes.
The project is backed by a $100 million investment
from Russian billionaire Yuri Milner:
“This is something that people have been
dreaming and thinking about for thousands
The first one to propose that type of project
was Johannes Kepler in 1610 and there were
many smart people after him.
So we’re sort of standing on the shoulders
But only in the last fifteen years it became
practically possible to talk about this project.
And we know that this is just the beginning.
We know it will take a long time, probably
a generation, to actually launch a spacecraft
that can travel interstellar.
But we do know that the time is to start now
given that technology is available and it’s
mostly an engineering challenge and not a
Milner’s $100 million is just a down payment
to spur development of the tech needed to
launch the mission within 20 years.
The project’s total cost will be in the
ten billion dollar range.
Here’s how it will work.
A chip about one-centimeter wide will carry
circuitry, thrusters, a camera, spectrometer,
plutonium battery, and a laser beam to send
data back to Earth.
It will be surrounded by a sail.
An array of lasers back on Earth will beam
it up to a speed of roughly 20% the speed
At that speed, it will take the craft just
three-and-a-half days to reach the edge of
the solar system.
Five months later it will reach the treacherous
Oort cloud — trillions of icy objects surrounding
the Solar System that will take seven-and-a-half
years to pass through.
If it emerges intact it will then journey
for another 13 years before encountering the
Proxima Centauri system.
But it won’t stay long.
Traveling so fast, with no way to slow down,
it will scream through the star system in
just two hours, giving it a brief window of
opportunity to capture data, which will take
four years to transmit back to Earth.
Sounds simple right?
Until you think about all the hurdles.
All this technology — from the lasers to
the craft itself — doesn’t exist yet.
The good news is that initial research on
sail-based laser propulsion looks promising.
The bad news is that the lasers needed to
propel the sail are 1 million times more powerful
than what’s currently available.
The lasers will hit the craft with g-forces
tens of thousands of times stronger than anything
we feel on earth.
Artillery shells can take this level of force
for less than a second.
Starshot will need to withstand it for minutes.
Any object — even a speck of space dust
— could easily destroy the probe, or if
it somehow survives a collision, send it careening
The interstellar medium is the vast unknown.
The first and only manmade object to reach
interstellar space is the Voyager 1 probe,
launched in 1977.
It took the iconic pale blue dot image of
planet Earth in 1990 and crossed the heliosphere
in 2012 and is still active.
Breakthrough Starshot will launch exploratory
probes as soon as a prototype propulsion system
While Voyager took incredible photos of the
Solar System, no camera has ever taken a photo
while traveling at one-fifth the speed of
No manmade object has ever even travelled
the fast period.
Perhaps the biggest challenge will be transmitting
any photos and data it does collect back to
Fitting a power source on an already crowded
centimeter-wide chip capable of shooting a
laser back home to us doesn’t seem possible.
That’s why it’s best to think about this
project in the broader context of space exploration.
Even if it fails, simply attempting to solve
the seemingly impossible always has residual
benefits, just like the space race and moon
There are other efforts underway to reach
Proxima b up close, including sending a larger,
But that mission wouldn’t launch for a century.
Another hope for taking a peek at Proxima
b lies with several giant telescopes coming
online in the next decade, including the James
Webb, scheduled to launch late next year.
But as Voyager demonstrated time and again,
there’s nothing like going to a new place.
Which sport do you think will be played in
the most expensive stadium ever built?
If you said American football, you’re right.
This is the story of Atlanta’s $1.6 billion
Mercedes Benz Stadium that’s set to open
by the end of the summer.
It will be home to the world’s most spectacular
roof and will be the first NFL stadium to
achieve the highest certification in Leadership
in Energy and Environmental Design.
“For a roof to open in this fashion, with
eight petals that actually move in a straight
line, we can’t find another precedent ever
in the world.”
The roof was inspired by the oculus in the
ancient Roman Pantheon and takes the retractable
concept to a whole other level.
The first retractable roof in a major sports
venue was Civic Arena — home to the Pittsburgh
Penguins — and the first large stadium to
have a ceiling that opened to the stars was
Not only will Mercedes Benz have the most
complex roof ever constructed, but it’s
ridiculous 58-foot-tall halo video board will
be three times larger than the one in Jacksonville,
the reigning king of LED displays.
The project also landed the city the Atlanta
United, an MLS expansion franchise that began
play this year.
Mechanized curtains will cover the upper deck
during matches, providing the more intimate
feel common to other MLS venues.
This entire stadium effort doubles down on
the success of its predecessor, The Georgia
It was the only facility in the world to play
host to the Olympics, Super Bowl, and Final
Atlanta’s centralized location is part of
the secret to its success as a sports mecca.
It has by far the busiest airport in the United
States, making it the most convenient spot
in the country to travel to.
The new stadium is already scheduled to hold
championships for the next three years: 2018’s
College Football Playoff National Championship,
Super Bowl LIII in 2019, and the 2020 NCAA
[Falcons’ Owner Arthur Blank] “I think
downtown Atlanta is very unique, I think the
stadium itself is very unique.
I think it sends the right message to many
cities in terms of public-private partnerships
that are honored in the NFL.
As co-founder of The Home Depot in 1978, Blank
has built an empire selling quality products
that people use everyday.
To achieve the elusive platinum LEED certification,
the stadium is using tons of recyclable materials
and will have 4,000 solar panels to generate
enough renewable electricity to power nine
Falcons home games.
Overall it will use 29% less electricity than
a baseline stadium of its size.
It will collect millions of gallons of rainwater
for HVAC cooling towers and for irrigating
the surrounding landscape that will include
edible blueberry bushes and apple trees.
The project was even recognized by the Obama
administration for its commitment to sustainability.
[Stadium General Manager Scott Jenkins] “It
became apparent that platinum was within reach
and that really excited me to know that we
could be the first professional stadium to
That’s why I came here from Seattle, I wanted
to be a part of this project, because of Arthur’s
commitment to quality and Arthur’s commitment
to doing the right thing.”
The stadium will be financed by about $550
million of public money, with the majority
coming from a tax on local hotel bookings
through the year 2050.
This funding scheme makes sense from a local
perspective, let the out of town visitors
pay for it.
It also seems like a win-win for Atlanta residents
and their city council members who approved
Still, $550 million is a lot of money for
citizens of the state of Georgia to spend
on a stadium, especially one whose primary
tenant will be the richest sports league in
That 7% tax on hotel rooms could’ve gone
to many other things that would enrich people’s
lives more in the long run rather than the
immediate gratification of building a shrine
to sports stars.
Still, hosting so many massive events will
also have economic benefits for the city,
not to mention the pride and prestige it will
add to downtown.
Atlanta quarterback and reigning NFL MVP Matt
Ryan — who was just one magical Tom Brady
drive away from a championship — summed
up the excitement surrounding the new stadium:
[Matt Ryan] “Atlanta’s such a great town.
And for hosting events that are coming in
this stadium’s going to be unbelievable.
But for us to have it as our home field, it’s
gonna be the best in the NFL.
It’ll be fun, it’ll be fun to play in
it and it’s gonna be a great home field
advantage for us.”
India loves megaprojects.
The country’s $90 billion Delhi-Mumbai industrial
corridor is one of the most ambitious, expensive
endeavors in human history.
Completing 1,500 kilometers of new railway
and more than 20 brand new cities will set
the stage for India to become a manufacturing
superpower in the next two decades.
It’s so important I made a video all about
it a couple years ago, it’s linked below.
Now, the corridor may be vital to India’s
future economy, but it’s not the project
that will deliver the largest day-to-day improvement
in quality of life.
Neither will a new mega-airport under construction
in Mumbai, or World One—the largest residential
tower in the world, or even a 500 km high
speed rail line planned for India’s west
No, the project Indians need most is more
basic than all that: it’s hundreds of thousands
of kilometers of paved roads.
Like the rest of the world, the Indian people
have fallen in love with driving.
But there currently aren’t enough reliable
highways to hold all the cars in a country
of 1.3 billion people and growing.
The good news is that the Indian government
has learned one of the key economic lessons
of modern history: that the not-so-secret
ingredient of America’s dominance over the
last half century is our vast network of well-maintained
streets and highways.
Roads allow us to move ourselves — and all
of our goods — fluidly from city to city,
from fields to towns to air and sea ports,
China learned this lesson a while ago.
They’ve spent tens of billions of dollars
on roadways over the past two decades as their
Now that its transportation infrastructure
is maturing, the Chinese are positioned for
India wants to follow the same blueprint and
is in the midst of a sustained, years-long,
multi-tens of billions of dollars megaproject
to do just that.
India has about the same population as China,
but double the density.
Get this, of the five most-densely populated
cities in the world with more than four million
residents, four of them are in India, including
the planet’s most crowded megacity, Mumbai.
So with much less land to work with, India’s
challenge will be expanding, modernizing,
and widening its existing network of roads,
which, on the plus side, is already quite
On the downside, 40% of it is dirt.
Without good roads, the country is less unified
because its people and goods can’t move
around freely enough, especially to and from
Currently, national highways connecting major
cities with ports and rail junctions carry
40% of all passenger and freight traffic,
but make up just 1.5% of the total road network,
leading to horrible traffic congestion on
these crucial arteries.
One of the new roads in the megaproject that’s
already completed is a $2B expressway that
slashed the travel time between Delhi to Agra
by up to four hours.
But barbed wire fencing all along the route
keeps it clear of the people and slow-moving
vehicles that crowd the rest of India’s
roads, and high tolls mean it’s used only
for the rich.
This undercuts the whole purpose of the road:
to alleviate congestion on the rest of the
The predictable result of this segregation
is that the highway is being used far less
than it should be.
Challenges like this will need to be addressed
and overcome by the government of Indian Prime
Minister Narendra Modi who’s a big fan of
megaprojects, and has maintained his commitment
to the ambitious goal of completing 18,500
kilometers of controlled-access highway.
One of the main obstacles to achieving this
vision is that the megaproject suffers from
chronic underfunding and the disappointment
of only reaching about half its construction
Part of the problem that’s holding it back
is the financing model, which is flawed.
Using Public Private Partnerships to build
toll roads doesn’t work if the road’s
profitability is depressed because not enough
people can afford the expensive access fees.
Potential investors see this and are scared
away—no firm wants to sink significant time
and capital into a project that will lose
This means the national government is having
to get creative with its funding mechanisms
and coming up with more funds than it anticipated
to jump-start each construction project.
Compare this to the way the Chinese operate.
As an authoritarian country, a single political
party controls the entire government, allowing
it to push projects through and spend money
as it pleases, sometimes in a brutally efficient
The government of India, the world’s largest
democracy, can’t operate like that.
But while China, India’s continental rival,
may have leapt ahead in its rate of completion
of a mega-network of highways, it has yet
to face the inevitable reckoning of a messy
transition to democracy.
With a people who are much freer, on this
front, the Indians are miles ahead of the
Now, they just need to build themselves enough
open road so their economy can hit top speed.
Having recently completed both the world’s
most extensive system of expressways and the
planet’s longest high speed rail network,
China is now looking beyond its borders for
opportunities to keep building.
President Xi Jinping announced at a recent
summit that Beijing has sealed megaproject
deals with 65 countries throughout Eurasia
and Africa to construct ports, power stations,
rail lines, roads, and all the tunnels and
bridges needed to connect them back to mainland
At a total cost of over $1 trillion, the One
Belt, One Road initiative is unprecedented
in size and scope.
So is the bold funding mechanism: China will
use its large, state-run banks to provide
most of the financing, a risky move, when
you consider how few of the nations in the
O.B.O.R. could afford something like this
on their own.
“Oh,” say the leaders of economically-challenged,
underdeveloped Laos, Yemen, or Ethiopia — or
the blood-soaked regime of Bashar al-Assad
in war-ravaged Syria — “you want to loan
us billions of dollars to build some cool
stuff in our countries?
Of course, why not!?”
China is hard-selling the project as a way
to boost its westward connections, an update
of the silk road trade route that played a
significant role in developing China and the
rest of the region 1,000 years ago.
But many analysts see this comparison as little
more than a marketing pitch.
Al Jazeera clip: “Is the real point of this,
East-West service then simply to boost China’s
[Pauline Loong] “Well I wouldn’t say simply
to boost China’s westward connections, but
I totally agree with Charles that it’s more
a PR stunt.
To call it the “Silk Road,” that’s really
brilliant—evocative of romantic camel travels
in the past.
When, you know, you have these lovely silks
and trade and so forth.
And it’s good, because look at all the headlines
it has been getting, but in practical terms,
it’s early days yet.”
[Bryce] Aside from the lessons China learned
from its own recent infrastructure boom, Beijing
is also drawing inspiration from the American
Marshall Plan which financed the rebuilding
of Western Europe after it was decimated during
the second world war.
That program was worth the equivalent of $130
billion in today’s dollars and ensured the
US had reliable export markets for the manufactured
goods and machinery its growing economy had
become dependent on producing.
China’s modern version — first announced
in 2013 — is the signature initiative of
President Xi Jinping.
Several projects have already been completed.
Earlier this year London became the 15th European
city connected directly to China through an
ever-expanding global rail system, meaning
freight trains loaded with goods can now arrive
after a 12,000km journey all the way from
the east coast of the landmass.
And, at a cost of $4 billion, China also just
completed Africa’s first transnational electric
railway, which runs 466 miles from Djibouti
to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.
Chinese companies designed the system, built
the line, and supplied the train cars.
The many other projects under the O.B.O.R.
A $6 billion, 260-mile railway connecting
eight Asian countries.
Desperately needed power plants to address
Pakistan’s chronic electricity shortage,
part of a larger $46 billion investment by
China in Pakistan aimed at offsetting the
American and Japanese-backed building boom
happening in neighboring India, China and
Pakistan’s mutual rival.
Train lines will connect Budapest to Belgrade,
Serbia, providing another artery for Chinese
goods to reach Europe after arriving in a
Chinese-owned port in Greece.
And — in a move that adds prestige to O.B.O.R.
— China is financing more than a third of
the $23.7 billion cost of the Hinkley Point
C nuclear power plant in southwest England.
Part of the challenge in analyzing whether
this building boom is ultimately good for
the world is its sheer complexity.
Nothing like this has ever been done before
in human history.
Yes, providing underdeveloped countries a
chance to have better transportation infrastructure,
or cleaner power plants is a good thing.
But, by funding infrastructure that’s designed
to enhance commerce and trade — instead
of basic services many of these countries
need more, like clean drinking water, affordable
housing, and better education — China’s
motives seem to favor the wealthy, elite business
Here are other factors that explain why China
is undertaking a project of this magnitude:
The Communist Party has staked its reputation
on non-stop economic growth.
Since they hold all the power, the Chinese
people expect them to deliver.
But with its domestic megaproject boom nearing
completion, China must find new buyers for
all the steel, cement, and construction machinery
its economy produces, or many of its factories
could grind to a halt.
It has decided the solution is One Belt, One
Road, but lending hundreds of billions of
dollars to many countries with weak credit
ratings and unstable political systems is
Which reveals an underlying sense you get
when you look closely at One Belt One Road:
China’s increasing desperation.
The country’s national debt is already very
high, but borrowing continues to accelerate
at historic levels as state owned banks loan
more and more money to state owned companies.
The prime example of the risks associated
with the tight rope the Communist Party is
trying to walk was the government bailouts
issued during China’s recent stock market
That crisis was caused by the same sense of
impatience that’s driving O.B.O.R.—the
Party’s need to feed the insatiable economic
Using its powerful propaganda machine, Beijing
urged its own people to invest their savings
heavily in its immature, unstable market—causing
inexperienced citizens to treat investments
in companies like bets at a casino, creating
a huge bubble that, naturally, burst.
The government then suspended trading for
a while and pumped billions into the system
to avoid a total collapse.
So really, when you step back, the core motivation
for One Belt, One Road boils down to the Communist
Party’s need to buy itself more time in
order to come up with its next scheme to prop
up the economy, because when it inevitably
slows down, which it’s already starting
to do, the Party’s promise to deliver a
fantastic economic dream world will have been
proven false for everyone in China but the
The silver lining is that many of the ventures
China has undertaken will pay long-term dividends,
like building up its high-tech manufacturing
sector, with the anticipation that when OBOR’s
transportation networks are complete, it will
be ready to use them to deliver higher-cost
goods like iPhones, drones, and green energy
technologies to the rest of the world.
The other major motivating factor here is
the unmistakable opportunity to gain even-power
status with the United States in Asia.
The election of Donald Trump, and then his
decision to walk away from the Trans Pacific
Partnership trade deal that would have hurt
China, are massive geopolitical mistakes—completely
unforced errors that China intends to take
full advantage of.
When it first announced the O.B.O.R. back
in 2013, Barack Obama had just begun his second
term and the US pivot to Asia was in full
With rivals like Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam
challenging China’s efforts to control maritime
trade routes, it was clear China was being
hemmed in on its Eastern flank.
Despite the election of Trump, this is still
So by instead turning instead to the vast
land mass to the west for new opportunities,
China minimizes its reliance on maritime trade
routes that could be cut off in the event
of a destabilizing military conflict.
At the end of the day, China is all about
It doesn’t matter if you’re a democracy,
a dictatorship, or a failed state, China wants
to work with you.
But this willingness to embrace some of the
world’s more unsavory characters could backfire.
Just look who Xi is sitting next to at the
O.B.O.R. summit: Russia’s Vladimir Putin
and Turkey’s Erdogan—two men who look
more and more like dictators clinging to power
with each passing day.
That’s not a good look for China, and it
reminds us that the Communist Party is even
But in a world where the President of the
United States is a bumbling fool, these partnerships
create much less of an image problem now than
they would have just a few months ago, when
the widely admired Barack Obama was leading
the free world.
If you ask the Chinese, the O.B.O.R. is all
about peace, an embrace of the concept of
A generation ago it was unthinkable for a
country to invest billions of dollars on infrastructure
in another country, but in our hyper-globalized
world, dominated by interconnected markets,
it may become the norm, especially when we
consider the intangible benefits—greater
economic interdependence lowers the risk that
groups of countries will want to fight with
other groups of countries, many of whom are
bound together by military alliances.
Every one of these projects increases China’s
soft power, giving Beijing more and more leverage
in any future negotiation or military conflict.
The many foreign seaports it will build and
manage for the next half century will be particularly
valuable chess pieces.
Its understandable that Chinese policymakers
are romanticizing One Belt, One Road as a
crowning achievement for their nation—further
recognition that it has regained its former
status as a great civilization that deserves
recognition around the world.
But the reality is that it still has a long
way to go.
Combined, the following factors may weaken
the optimistic sales pitches being made to
foreign officials: a recent Oxford business
school study argued that half of Chinese domestic
megaprojects actually destroyed, not generated
economic value; a few of China’s previous
efforts to build megaprojects in foreign countries
— like the A2 motorway in Poland — failed
miserably; landowners and their representatives
in the national assemblies of host countries
are pushing back hard against attempts to
take away their land; and public demonstrations
against some the projects are beginning to
take root, and spread.
Another dose of reality that should sober
Beijing is that— after analyzing China’s
overleveraged financial position — its credit
rating was just downgraded by a major agency,
whose analysts concluded that its borrowing
is raising red flags, and its economic growth
will continue to slow down.
Of course, none of these speed bumps is going
to stop the Communist Party from attempting
to execute their great leap.
They are committed 100% to embracing a fundamental
history lesson — one we were all reminded
of by Brexit’s improbable win and the unlikely
ascendence of Donald Trump — that fortune
favors the bold—at least, in the short run.
Thanks for watching.
Get caught up on all of China’s major domestic
megaprojects with the mini-documentary I made
last year, which started some interesting
To learn even more, and to support our work,
sign up for a free 30-trial of Audible.com
— linked below — and you’ll get one
free audio download, like the great courses
on The Fall and Rise of China.
Until next time, for TDC, I’m Bryce Plank.