It is easy to get seduced by the triumphant towers of Shanghai - shouting their message of hyper-relevance in the global economy. The problem is then how do these epic beasts create a public place to match their ambition. The sad - and all to common answer - is the place is dominated by cars, large malls, and too large parks that serve to separate and
discourage a public life on the street. Tall Buildings do not need to be alienating environments - Manhattan is a both/and ... world class streets create a dynamic setting for world class buildings. But somehow, newly planned high-rise buildings and their districts ignore the public realm and creating an alienating environment that makes for a dismal experience - one focused on creating a foreground for viewing the object of the skyscraper - as it meets the sky but please ... look away from where it meets the ground. Ideally seen from a half mile away. That is the essence of Pudong. The emphasis is on the car drop-off, the pedestrian experience seems a mere afterthought. I'll bet the plan looks great on paper!!
Contrasting this in the most unfair way possible!! are the lilong (alleys) and shikumen (courtyard houses) that make up the traditional fabric of Shanghai. What is most interesting is that this was a developer driven product borne from a marriage of the English row
house and the traditional Chinese courtyard neighborhoods. This hybrid model was built from the late 1800's to the 1930's in Shanghai only and was developed by both Western and Chinese developers to meet a crushing need for housing created by a massive influx to the city. Unlike Pudong and many new high density housing blocks, a real neighborhood fabric was created that accommodated the complexity of living: retail around the perimeter of the blocks, places for community functions, a diversity of different incomes - some grand houses, some more minimal. This fabric was adjacent to and interwoven with the commercial areas to ensure easy access.
I have seem some examples in Shanghai of modern reinterpretations. Can an interweaving of these sensibilities be created (the post-modern international city and the livable fabric) that brings the best features of both? There are a few out there and worth striving for and seeking out. Both/and not either/or. Or you can settle into the quaint alleys of Tianzifang and sip a glass of wine amidst the galleries and knick nack shops that have taken over a few lilong.
There is so much to see and say about this amazing city; hopefully in future posts!