How We Lived on It (33) – The Ascendance of Shanghai

The contrast in these photos, of Shanghai 1990 and 2010, is an eye opener more than literally. It is the Chinese economic and urban development behemoth let loose. (H/T Derek Thompson)

Here is NPR in December 2006.

It’s become an urban myth that at one time, one-quarter of the world’s construction cranes were in Shanghai. Indeed, it now has more skyscrapers than New York City.

Shanghai’s historical upheavals and rebirths can be traced through architecture, with its colonial legacy and capitalist boom. Ahead of the World Expo in 2010, the city is being transformed again, with mind-bogglingly ambitious plans.

The latest symbol of Shanghai’s urban hipness is Xintiandi, a bustling shopping and entertainment district. But these luxury boutiques, which appear to be housed in traditional lanehouses, are not what they seem.

In fact, Xintiandi is a re-imagining of Shanghai’s old streetscape as consumer experience, dreamed up by American architect Ben Wood.

“In order for a place to be fashionable, it has to transcend the nostalgia of historic preservation,” Wood says. “I was quite resourceful. Some preservationists say I was ruthless. … I made openings where openings didn’t exist if I thought it would improve the cinematic experience of walking the neighborhood.”

Traditional music wafts along the street, heightening the film-set feel of the place. This is Shanghai’s most hyped urban development of recent years. But the decision to leave some old buildings standing is the exception rather than the rule.

The more-accepted new face of Shanghai is an ever-growing labyrinth of skyscrapers. From an observation deck in Pudong, a district across the river from Shanghai’s original settlement, skyscrapers stretch out into the distance as far as the eye can see.

Twenty years ago, this area was just farmland. Now, this viral growth of skyscrapers, this city on steroids, symbolizes China’s urban future.

Listen:

Shanghai Report

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