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.
BEIJING, 9 MAY 2007--Anyone questioning China's potential to become the dominant player in the 21st century and beyond need look no further than the Beijing Transportation Information Center. The entrepreneurial leader of the center, Mr. WANG gang, has lead the development of the most innovative system for managing traffic congestion I've seen, putting U.S. systems to shame and leapfrogging over London's cutting edge signal coordinatin system. Rather than try to regulate congestion by limiting automobile use, they have figured out a way to use technology to make its use more efficient.
BEIJING--When I first learned that I wouldn't be able to rent a car in Beijing, I was disappointed. That's how I usually break away from the business "bubble" to learn something about a city. But, it didn't take more than an hour to realize that I was better off with a local driver than tackling it myself. Driving habits, combined with roads choking with pedestrians, cars, buses, and taxis, convinced me I needed to leave the driving to a "pro".
The car is remarkably similar to a regular vehicle, except for a small computer screen on the dash that provides a detailed diagnostic readout on the hydrogen fuel cell stack.
That's my colleague Mike Liebhold of the Institute for the Future behind the wheel.
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.