Just How Fast is Shanghai Growing?
These photos are of the Pudong New Area, which is directly across the Huangpu river from Puxi, Shanghai’s historic urban core. At the time of the official announcement of the development plans for Pudong in 1990, the area was mostly farmland.
Here’s Pudong in 1990:
Pudong in 1996:
Pudong in 2010:
An amazing transformation, no doubt. Pudong is now home to one of the most famous skylines in the world and includes a number of significant and important skyscrapers, including the Oriental Pearl Tower, World Financial Center, and the enormous Shanghai Tower, currently under construction.
My personal favorite building in Pudong is the Jin Mao tower. The building’s anchor tenant is the five-star, 555-room Shanghai Grand Hyatt hotel which occupies floors 53 to 87. The view of the hotel atrium from the observation deck is remarkable:
Despite all these successes, Pudong features a significant design flaw. The problem is certainly not a shortage of remarkable architecture, rather it’s how all those remarkable buildings fit together. While Pudong seems to aspire to be the next New York City or Hong Kong, it’s missing the pedestrian-oriented street network that makes these cities so livable.
Pudong’s streets are wide and mostly engineered for automobiles, not pedestrians. This is likely a reflection of China’s recent love-affair with cars, which I’ve written about previously. When I visited a few years ago, the only way to easily navigate some of the major intersections was to go over large pedestrian bridges across sometimes eight, ten, or twelve lanes or traffic. Walking to a cafe in a building across the street on your lunch break seems like it would be a real pain.
In graduate school, I had the chance to work with Allan Jacobs, the renowned urban designer, planner and educator, who was hired as a consultant to work in Pudong when they were first producing the development plan. Jacobs, an advocate of making great streets, especially European-style boulevards, pushed hard for a dense network of streets that maximized pedestrian, bicycle and transit connections. Years later, he was sorely disappointed in how development in Pudong developed around the automobile.
What model should Pudong have looked to? While there’s no shortage of great streets in the world (just read Jacob’s book for examples), Nanjing Road is a good start. It’s one of the busiest shopping streets in the world, partially built as a pedestrian mall, and is usually packed with thousands of people.
Where is Nanjing Road? Right across the river, in an older part of Shanhai, where neighborhood’s developed before the rise of the car and are characterized by dense development and walkable, active streets.
Maybe the situation has improved since I visited a few years ago (If so, please let me know!). It’s plausible; in fact, China seems to be capable of building just about anything it wants to. But, based on my observations there, Pudong seems to be a missed opportunity to create a walkable, pedestrian-oriented neighborhood, one that didn’t exist a mere twenty years ago.
Be sure to check out this related post: Just How Fast is Dubai Growing?