Thursday, 5 June 2008

Shanghai: The Endless City

Excerpt from Shanghai Daily

Urban experts' 'endless' approval for Shanghai

By Yao Minji 2008-6-5

MANY expats, upon arrival for the first time in Shanghai, are stunned by this ever-changing metropolis. A common compliment is that "Shanghai looks no different to New York except for the Chinese characters on the skyscrapers."

But does that mean Shanghai is becoming a faceless city like many other big cities? German urban planning expert Wolfgang Nowak gives a definite "no" with the support of a newly released 512-page hard-cover book titled "The Endless City."

"The Endless City" compiles thinking, dialogues and discussions from the project on six major international cities - New York, Shanghai, London, Mexico City, Johannesburg and Berlin. It was edited by London Design Museum curator Deyan Sudjic and LSE urban planning professor Ricky Burdett.

"...the problems illustrated in the book are universal ones that the general public also care about, such as the city's security, the environmental problems, and the future of cities," Nowak tells Shanghai Daily. "So I hope ordinary residents also read the book, think about the problems and become active in their cities."

Nowak is particularly interested in the development of cities because he believes everyone will reside in cities by the end of the century.

The editors picked the six cities mentioned because "they are of particular relevance for a better understanding of urban practice."

In addition, editors Sudjic and Burdett believe Shanghai to be one of the cities that will go through some of the greatest changes in the 21st century. Lagos, Kinshasa, Mumbai, Deli, Dhaka and Jakarta also fall into this category.

"It is projected that by 2030, more than 4 out of every 5 urban dwellers will be in the developing world, so this will have huge implications for the global economy," the editors write.

"At the same time, mature cities such as London, New York, Berlin and Mexico City need to ensure that their future growth reconciles their layered history of planning mistakes and prioritizes sustainable transport and inclusive, contained growth."

Nowak gives examples of Shanghai, a city which "still surprises" him even after four visits.

"When we walk in Shanghai, we see a city of the future, with great public security, large streets, increasing public transportation, people from all over the world and a culture supported by 5,000 years of Chinese history," he says.

Nowak believes other cities could learn from Shanghai's rapid development, public security and planning of the Pudong airport.

On the other hand, he suggests Shanghai could take lessons about the green lifestyle from many older cities such as Berlin, where environmental protection has become part of everyday life.

"Moreover, Shanghai is a city that has still kept its character while developing surprisingly rapidly.
Many new cities have become the same under the large trend of globalization. And even some old cities are facing the same problem.

"In Berlin, we are still struggling to reconstruct our history and culture, because lots were destroyed after World War II."

For Nowak, Chinese cities like Shanghai and Beijing have done well in combining modern development with the essence of the city, instead of simply making the old look new.

Not having been to New York City, I have always thought of Shanghai as an Asian NYC. So I may be wrong, but I know that there are many other people out there who think the same thing. There is the buzz, the liveliness, the HUGE population and density, the huge gap between the rich and the poor, the multiculturalism and more. You can't describe it. You just have to LIVE (t)here to EXPERIENCE it.

My sister lived in Shanghai only 3 years ago and I can already see so many changes since I visited her then. Even in the one year that I've been here there have been huge changes - notably the completion of THREE new subway lines, and the new terminal at Pudong airport. I do wonder though, with so many rapid changes going on... if I ever come back to Shanghai in the future will it be unrecognizable? Will all the little things that make it 'cool' be obliterated in the strive to become more futuristic, more Western, more affluent? I guess only time will tell (although I guess I already answered my own question).

Part of why I love living in Shanghai is the crazy feeling that somehow you're in a time warp. You're kind of living in the past and in the future at the same time. I'm sure there will be a time when those old men pulling the tricycles loaded up with 50 billion kilograms of styrofoam boxes, cane chairs, recyclable cardboard packaging, plastic water bottles or whatnot will be gone and then I can reminisce to my kids, "When I was your age and living in Shanghai..."

If anyone is interested in skyscraper cities there is a great forum here.

And you can buy "The Endless City" book here

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