[9] Shanghai, ‘Big City Disease’

Walking over the Bund, the promenade that housed the largest financial centre of the far east in the 1930s, and nowadays forms the skyline of Shanghai, I start understanding the ambiguity of Shanghai’s city planning: the good and the ugly.

Shanghai and Beijing are not only different in their functionality  – financial versus political centre – but as well in their design. Beijing is a dynamic organism, a city created through history; Shanghai on the other hand, is a planned city, where futuristic skyscrapers, more than historic temples, determine the skyline.

Keep on Growing

The planning has started already in the 1930s and keeps on going with the latest new vision for Shanghai to 2035, resulting in multiple green spaces, an elaborated transport system, organised streets and use of the public space, and even brownfield projects, such as the art district M50.

shanghai - pedestrian lane above ground 2

Albeit the continuous planning process, the continuous growth of the population is challenging the limits of the city. From 2000 to 2015 the population increased with almost 10 million, doubling the total amount of citizens until about 24 million, turning Shanghai in the most crowded city of China, considering its high amount of people per square meter. As a result, the city centre is expanding every year about 1 km, absorbing suburban towns.

Remarkably, the major part of this growth is caused by migration, rather than by natural growth. About 40% of its habitants are long-term migrants, underlining Shanghai’s status as global city, thanks to its international financial centre, and one of the world’s most busy ports.

Big City Disease

Shanghai is suspected to keep on growing until about 50 million people by 2050, doubling the actual population. Nevertheless, to avoid the self-called ‘Big City Disease’, the State Council of Shanghai created Shanghai’s masterplan 2017-2035. One of the goals is to limit the population to 25 million – only 1 million to go (!) – and the available land for construction will be limit to 3,200 square kilometres.

shanghai - air quality and pedestrian lane

The symptoms of the Big City Disease are overpopulation, pollution, traffic congestion, and a shortage of public services, such as education and medical care, according to Chinese State media. Unfortunately, this does not sounds like a rare disease in the 21st Century.

Nevertheless, limiting the growth of the city, in terms of population and city expansion, might not be the most ‘sustainable’ answer. Most likely to suffer are certain – especially lower-skilled – population groups, who will no longer be able to afford houses, and even might be forced to make space for other, more profitable functions or wealthier inhabitants of the city.

shanghai - the bund and pedestrian symbols

A similar limit has been set for Beijing, but at 23 million inhabitants by 2020. Moving certain companies to another, newly created, city would be one of the solutions; evicting certain population groups another. The latter is highly questionable sustainable.

Additionally, due to scarcity in combination with the high demand, housing prices start souring, which again is not a unique phenomenon for the city of Shanghai. Watch what’s happening in London (UK) or San Francisco (USA), just to name a couple.

And not only the housing market is under pressure, transportation is that as well, but that is for the next post.

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