Wednesday, April 2, 2008

To see the future go to China

I spent the last 10 days in Shanghai. The first thing you notice is scale, the second is smog. Shanghai makes places like San Francisco, Portland and Seattle look quaint. It has the density and building size of Manhattan but rather than Manhattan’s 13 by 2 mile foot print with 1.5 million residents, the central planned area of Shanghai is square, about 26 miles on each side, and has over 10 million people. There are 5000 buildings over 18 stories tall in this one city alone.

China is moving large percentages of its population from rural areas into its cities. Their cities have increased by 300 million people in the last decade. This means that China has built urban infrastructure to accommodate a population the size of the US in only the last 10 years.

The governments of China and Shanghai developed the master plan of Shanghai in 1995 and they are on track to complete it by 2010. They are planning an International Expo in 2010 to celebrate this accoumplishment. You can see the master plan at the Shanghai Urban Planning Museum, a must see if you visit Shanghai.

I was in Shanghai in 2006 when it had 3 subway lines. On this visit they had 8 operating subway lines. They know transportation, especially in the inner city, is one of their largest challenges: so they simultaneously built 5 additional subway lines through an already developed city.

Just to show off they put in a Magnetic Levitation train that runs from the airport some 16 miles into town. It takes 8 minutes for an average of 120 miles per hour. Its top speed is 435 km/hr making it the fastest train on earth.

You can judge China to be good, bad, idyllic or evil: there is no question it is a totalitarian government with a sketchy record on human rights. However you should appreciate the magnitude of the challenge of developing a country with 1.2 billion people. China has literally built a city from the mud that is one of the most highly productive and cosmopolitan on the planet. And in so doing, it is raising the standard of living and quality of life for 10s of millions of Chinese people.

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