Tuesday, March 12

A History of Future Cities: The Rise of New Shanghai

Shanghai is very impressive son. It was very cold when I was there late last year. But it's a Potemkin village in some ways (look this up), its a facade. Almost farcically it's a great example of history repeating itself. In this case, Shanghai was exactly here just about 80 years back and then it all fell to ruins. You will see it when you visit china later this year. 

But you have to think of cities as a layered cake. Tens of hundreds of thousands of layers. Cities have very long histories. The trick is to surf between these layers and that's the fun of it. These layers can be historical. They can be social. They can be economic. They can be geographical. They can be cultural. Various kinds of layers. Fascinating to delve and dig around. 

Given that now more people in the world live in cities, one phenomena which you should remember. And cities are hugely resilient. They recover from huge disasters and still live on. 



A History of Future Cities: The Rise of New Shanghai: Places: Design Observer

Essay: Daniel Brook

Pudong New Area and the Huangpu River, Shanghai. [Photo by wecand]

Shanghai, 1989
Two decades ago, when Shanghai’s leaders looked out over the new New China
born of Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms, it seemed history had gone off the rails. It wasn’t Shanghai, the city that invented Chinese capitalism, but Deng’s new experimental instant metropolis, Shenzhen, on the border with Hong Kong, that was brimming with factories and drawing thousands of ambitious young people from across the country. It was as if Deng had held a great national casting call for China’s next business hub and upstart Shenzhen had gotten the part Shanghai assumed she was destined to play. Hoping to set things right, Shanghai officials lobbied their superiors in Beijing, urging them to reopen to the world China’s historic global gateway city and financial center.

Back then even Deng’s pro-market political allies were wary of Shanghai. Some officials worried that unleashing China’s cradle of cosmopolitanism and revolution could upend their rule. Others fretted that the symbolism alone would aid their ideological enemies. Deng was already beset by anti-market factions within the Party who warned that his new Special Economic Zones for international investment would become “foreign concession zones” reborn. Though Deng had been able to overrule them in creating Shenzhen, the symbolism of their critique would be much more salient in Shanghai, a city that had actually been a grouping of foreign concessions during China’s “Century of Humiliation,” from the Opium War through World War II.

But the Shanghai city government kept pushing. In the 1980s, “when we prepared the master plan,” Zhang Rufei, a former Shanghai city planning official, explained, “we had the idea to build the [Pudong] side of the river [and] we tried to sell [the central government on] this idea.” The ambitious plans for Pudong were seemingly the perfect antidote to the charge that the new Shanghai would be a revival of the foreign concessions of the old. Shanghai planners called for building a sparkling new downtown directly across the Huangpu River from the Jazz Age skyline that the British and American Shanghailanders had erected on the Bund. By towering over the edifices of foreign-dominated Shanghai, the new development would symbolize the rise of a powerful, independent China. And beyond just dwarfing the foreign-built city, the new downtown would literally rise above Old Shanghai’s shame. The skyscrapers would sprout from the mud of Pudong, the notorious district of foreign-owned factories and Chinese workers’ shacks, where the Chinese had toiled for a pittance to enrich Western companies like British American Tobacco and Standard Oil.

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