Forest City is a luxury development in southern Malaysia. Experts say the estate is a ghost town.

Forest City, Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

Marielle Descalsota / Insider

Country Garden is the biggest property developer in China, and Forest City is its biggest development. It’s also one of the most controversial developments in Malaysia’s history.

Construction on the $ 100 billion project started in 2015 and is expected to be completed in 14 years. It has lauded itself a “living paradise” and a “green, futuristic city.” But some experts believe Forest City is a “time bomb,” as its rapid construction has wreaked environmental havoc on Johor Bahru’s coasts.

Today, the development is widely considered a ghost town, with as few as 500 residents in 2019. When I visited Forest City earlier this month, an expert, who declined to be named for security reasons, told me several thousand people currently live in the estate. The expert estimated that the city is at less than 5% capacity.

While the pandemic slowed tourism and property sales in development, construction has not stopped. Three of the eight phases of its development have been completed.

When I visited the city, it had a sales gallery, a mall, an international school, and two resorts, but very few businesses operating. Plots of land have been reserved for the development, but it is unclear if these projects will continue.

“Forest City was not built solely as a residential development,” Country Garden told me in an email.

“Forest City carries out overall urban planning and construction in accordance with the concept of industry-city integration to ensure future commercial value and sustainable development,” the company added.

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