SHENZHEN, China — With little more than an architect's drawing and a sales pitch to go by, Tim Chen paid around $500,000 last month for a small apartment being built above a shopping mall on the outskirts of this southern Chinese metropolis.
"I wanted to grab a larger unit in the first batch that went on sale, but I didn't grab fast enough," he said in the lobby of the development's salesroom, echoing an urgency that has gripped many buyers in recent months.
Even as the broader Chinese economy has slowed and as housing values have slumped across much of China, the Shenzhen juggernaut has barreled ahead. High-tech start-ups replaced the factories that had made the city a pioneering showcase of Chinese-style capitalism. Millions of young people moved here from across the country. Construction is everywhere, with prices of new homes surging.
But the deadly landslide on Sunday in Shenzhen, in which a man-made mountain of dirt and construction debris collapsed, is exposing the weaknesses in China's rapid growth. Disregard for safety standards and environmental regulations remains common despite growing risks, as demonstrated in the Shenzhen disaster, which buried or toppled dozens of buildings and left scores of people missing.
In Jiazitang village, on the outskirts of Shenzhen, Li Xiuhua, a 21-year-old migrant worker, complained on Wednesday about a deserted construction project next door.
"No one seems to care about this construction site anymore," Ms. Li said, pointing to the heaps of rubble and construction waste alongside the road. "Since I moved here two years ago, the construction has been stopped and no one has come to clear away this waste."
The landslide in Shenzhen casts a dark shadow over what had come to epitomize the China story, a gleaming metropolis of 11 million people, where only 3.3 million are registered as locals. The migrant city, which did not exist a few decades ago, even seemed to defy the country's current economic problems.
In November, prices of new homes contracted in 49 of the 70 cities included in the main official survey of the market, data released on Friday showed. Prices in metropolises like Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai fared better than in most places, rising 8 percent to 13 percent from a year earlier.
But Shenzhen is in a category of its own. Home prices soared 44 percent last month, the fastest rise in any Chinese city since the official survey began in its current form, in 2011.
The property market has become a vexing political issue at the highest levels. This month, the Politburo of the governing Communist Party announced plans to address an enormous housing overstock nationally, including relaxing restrictions on internal migration to help create demand for homes in outlying cities.
But the frenzy in Shenzhen highlights the difficulties that China faces as it tries to manage a crucial engine of the economy.
The runaway expansion in real estate and construction in recent years — and their slowdown more recently — has led to serious problems with industrial overcapacity and rising debt. In the Shenzhen disaster, the deadly mound of debris was created to fix another problem, the haphazard and sometimes dangerous dumping of dirt and construction waste.
Compared with the rest of China, "Shenzhen has a much higher reputation for dotting its i's and crossing its t's, and being much more business-friendly," said Christopher Balding, an associate professor at Peking University HSBC Business School who has been based in Shenzhen for nearly seven years. "At the same time, I'm not surprised something like this happened, because even in Shenzhen buildings are just flying up."
Shenzhen is the ultimate symbol of modern China's economic transformation.