Thus far on our Chinese journey we have visited three major cities. The historic and political capital Beijing, Beautiful Xi’an which is the gateway city to the one of the truly modern wonders the Terra Cotta Warriors and the spectacular Shanghai the business and commerce centre of China. All of these cities are experiencing a building boom of unprecedented growth and development. The sheer number, size and modern over the top design of these new buildings is mind numbing. The level of my astonishment and amazement is beyond description. Everywhere you look you see modern architecture that causes your jaw to drop in wonder.
With three times the population of New York City, Shanghai is New York on steroids and still growing as skyscrapers can seen to be sprouting in any direction you look. The tallest building in the world was recently completed in Shanghai dominates the skyline with its twisting form. It stands as a beacon the center of Shanghai’s exploding financial and business hub. But the supporting cast of surrounding builds emblazoned with the names of some the world’s foremost financial companies are equally impressive and appealing to the eye. But what is most impressive is that twenty years ago the amazing cityscape that is “New Shanghai” or “East Shanghai” did not exist. Since the mid-nineties a financial district has been built that would rival any in the world has emerged from nothing.
But Shanghai is just not about unrestrained development. Like most cities in China space is at a premium but supporting infrastructure has not been sacrificed. In the last twenty years three new subways connecting East and West Shanghai under the Yangtzee River have been put into service with with several more under construction or in planning stages. In a joint venture with venture with Simmens of Germany, a thirty kilometer electro-magnetic train line has been built that will get you from Shanghai’s new airport to downtown is seven minutes and twenty seconds.
Traffic congestion is a major problem in Shanghai. A number of road construction and traffic management strategies have been undertaken to address this difficult problem. For instance when major city traffic arteries become congested they simply build another roadway above the existing one. The result is an elevated eight lane freeway above the eight lanes below it taking up half that space of a similar expressway in North America. There are hundreds of kilometers of elevated highways around Shanghai alone. When another suspension bridge was required to handle automobile traffic across the Yangtzee River, a bridge with a spiraling or corkscrew bridge approach was built to minimize the space that is required to descend about a twenty meter drop in elevation from the top of the bridge to ground level.
Not all traffic problems can be handled with a construction based solution so traffic is also strictly managed. Only cars with certain license plate numbers can drive in cities on designated days. For example if your plate number ends with a one or a three you can not drive your care in the city on a Monday. Roads tolls are also heavily used throughout the country. In fact a major highway without a toll would be an exception.
I don’t want to leave you with the impression that life in a city like Shanghai is wonderful and problem free. It is not. Population density, smog, traffic congestion, water and waste management are real issues here like any major cities in the world. Moreover many struggle to make ends meet with locals paying rents that can consume most of their salary in rent. The difference in China is they are open to radical creative solutions to address problems they face. Also they are an action oriented society. Once they review the options and decide on a course of action work begins immediately without looking back or bureaucratic reviews or inefficiency. Consequently the result is unprecedented rapid growth and economic expansion that would be astonishing to the average Canadian.