The Shanghai 2010 World Expo opened this weekend, with an inspiring theme for urban planners: "Better City – Better Life".
SHANGHAI, CHINA--I've been a fan of New Urbanism for several years, but I've always considered myself an urban "pluralist"--someone who doesn't believe there is an "objective" or general urban form that is persistently successful over long periods of time. Indeed, Bob Bruegmann's thesis in Sprawl: A Compact History, suggests that urban form changes and evolves over time, although generally in a less dense direction.
Two moments in this trip bring home the pace of change here. Sunday morning, 8am, I wake up in the Zhongshan Park section of west-central Shanghai. Head out into the backlanes of the superblock behind the hotel and construction on a high-rise gated apartment building is already at full tilt. Two other construction projects intitimate in my life... a dorm across from our apartment in Manhattan, and a restaurant next to the Institute in Palo Alto, are definitely not on the same aggressive shifts.
Next moment, Wednesday evening 11:18pm at our hotel in Pudong, I glance out the window before bed and see a line of cement mixers 10-12 deep waiting to unload at the construction site across the street.
I'm in Shanghai this week conducting workshops for two of my Fortune 500 clients looking at the future of mobility in the Shanghai region and Chinese cities more broadly. If you've never been to China, get on a plane now and come here. You will never think about cities or urbanization the same way again.
Shanghai has created a city larger than Manhattan in less than 20 years, and is set to create another in the next 15. The earth literally sags under the weight of the new buildings, as they push the former rural swampland into the earth.
During my term of office as president of the American Planning Association, I made my theme “telling the planning story.” My point then – and today – is that we need to do a better job of explaining to our many publics what it is that planners do and why it makes a difference.