Forest City is a ghost city in Malaysia. Credit: YankeeHo / Wikimedia Commons

Three of the world's most useless megaprojects

Ghost cities, abandoned airports and theme parks. Large wasteful megaprojects share common mistakes, from bad planning to poor cost estimation, problematic execution and other external factors.



The Empire State Building, the Washington National Cathedral and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. All of these buildings have something in common: there were made from Indiana limestone, one of the most prized building materials in the United States. This stone was supposed to be the protagonist of Indiana's Limestone Park, a project that aimed to turn a town in southern Indiana into a tourist destination for lovers of limestone blocks. But the project went bust. We look at this and other major failed projects.

A park for limestone lovers

“Indiana limestone has gone into literally tens of thousands of building projects across North America and the world,” Todd Schnatzmeyer, executive director of the Indiana Limestone Institute of America, told Smithsonian magazineThe goal of Indiana's Limestone Park was to build a set of limestone pyramids in Bedford, Indiana, inspired by the Great Pyramids of Cheops, as well as a 260-metre-long replica of the Great Wall of China.

The federal government granted $700,000 to the town to start the project at a nearby quarry. But soon after construction began, the project was heavily criticised. In 1981, the Bedford Limestone Pyramid received the “Golden Fleece” award, which ridiculed wasteful projects that squandered taxpayers’ money. Critics of the project doubted that it could be done with the funding and that the park could be completed by 1982, The Washington Post reported a year earlier. The government withdrew the funding after just one layer of limestone had been laid.

Indiana limestone is one of America's most prized building materials. Credit: Journey Indiana

A ghost city

Some of the world's most useless projects are ghost cities. Such is the case of Forest City, a sprawling housing complex built in Johor, in the far south of Malaysia. This $100 billion megaproject was inaugurated in 2015 by China's largest property developer, Country Garden. To date, only 15% of the entire project has been built. Despite being nearly $200 billion in debt, Country Garden told the BBC in late 2023 that it was “optimistic” that the full plan would be completed.

Forest City, built far from the nearest major city, was billed as “a dream paradise for all mankind.” Its location could have been better chosen. It has put off prospective tenants and earned it the local nickname “ghost city.” “To be honest, it's creepy,” says Nazmi Hanafiah, a computer engineer who lived in Forest City for a few months. He says, “I had high expectations for this place, but it was such a bad experience. There is nothing to do here.”

A BBC journalist who has visited the place described it as “an abandoned holiday resort.” As well as the beach being deserted, there are signs by the water warning of crocodiles. There is also a shopping mall with many closed shops and restaurants. Other shops are still under construction or empty. Another resident of this ghost city says she feels “sorry for people who actually invested and bought a place here.” The fate of Forest City rests with the Chinese government. “It should be the project that was promised to the people, but that’s not what it is,” the woman tells the BBC.

Forest City highlights the importance of realistic planning in urban development projects. Credit: LETZUPLOADIT

Failed airports

Although airports typically see millions of people pass through them every day, there are some that have been abandoned for years for a variety of reasons—from those too close to war zones to others that simply went bankrupt. Such is the case of Nicosia International Airport in Cyprus and Ciudad Real Airport in Spain. The latter was an ambitious project that began operations in 2008, but failed due to a number of factors. These include poor financial planning, lack of sustainable demand and competition from other nearby airports.

The original budget for the Spanish project was more than €200 million. However, due to delays, this figure appears to have to risen to more than €400 million and some claim it even reached €1 billionThe airport was declared bankrupt in 2012 and until 2019 there were no flights. During those years, it was used as the setting for several films and then, during the pandemic, it was used for flights from China carrying 26 million masks, but since then its facilities have closed again.

Ciudad Real airport sought to relieve saturation at Madrid-Barajas airport. Credit: Carlos Ayala

There are many more abandoned airports around the world. One popular database lists more than 2,000 totally or partially abandoned airports and airfields in the United States alone. Another, focused on Europe, lists several hundred more. The World Economic Forum sees “prime redevelopment opportunities” at some of these airports. “From Hong Kong to Athens, a handful of large-scale airport redevelopment projects are showing the way,” it asserts.


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Tungsteno is a journalism laboratory to scan the essence of innovation.

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