An essay by Duncan Barnes - Shanghai Development
With Shanghai’s population recently exceeding 24 million I was intrigued to see how open space was being used in and around the city. While redevelopment has been occurring at an astonishing rate over the past decade, large expanses of unused land remain only a short distance from the city centre.
Further investigation into city planning led to the ‘One city, nine towns project’ that sought to revitalise the cities outer suburbs by creating nine European themed towns, many of which were easily accessible using the cities existing metro system. Being of European decent I was curious to see how these ‘towns’ had been interpreted within a Chinese context.
The towns that I visited were both pastiche and cliché – London being represented as ‘Thames Town’ that boasted replicas of the famous red phone boxes while the streets themselves had names such as ‘Harry Street’. Paris (in Zhejiang province) with its own Arc de Triomphe and an Eiffel tower that lights up at night, Amsterdam with traditional Dutch windmills and a giant clog…
What I found fascinating about these places was not just a love but moreover an obsession of all things Western. While China, at its core, remains a communist country at a street level it has become hugely affected by Western ideology.
While many of these towns are now completed or are nearing completion they remain predominantly empty due to the high cost of housing compared to apartment living. The buildings are also predominantly façades; closer inspection reveals a thin veneer of cheap construction. The future of these spaces remains unclear and without occupants or regular maintenance many buildings are already falling into a state of decay.
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