Shanghai is a super-megacity with a population of approximately 24 million people. In December 2017, the State Council approved strategic plans to limit Shanghai’s growth to 25 million people by 2035 in order to control pressures that are mounting on urban resources and infrastructure.
Some skeptics hold the belief that Shanghai’s population has well-surpassed the 25 million mark. Others speculate socioeconomic implications arising from a population cap that could add new problems to Shanghai’s rapid aging population and, thus, foresee future demand for both high- and low-skilled workers in sectors ranging from healthcare to homecare. Yet another angle from which to assess Shanghai’s population debate is that of a view taken from the sidewalk, literally.
For a city brimming with approximately 24 million people, Shanghai is surprisingly walkable and pleasantly so. There are times, of course, when people are walking elbow-to-elbow and toe-to-heel in peak hour crowds at the Metro station or on a weekend in any one of Shanghai’s many urban shopping districts. And, at other times, it is possible to walk with a leisurely gait whereby human encounters become something of a rare kind that summon eye-to-eye contact. Sidewalks are a unique milieu in which to experience both the incessant as well as the episodic rhythms of an urban society.
During a visit to Shanghai in March 2018, I did my fair share of walking and explored several striking “sidewalks” of which the most memorable ones are described below…
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The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
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Buildings are disciplined on their lots in order to successfully define public space. The street is understood to be the preeminent form of public space and buildings that define it are expected to honor and embellish it.
– James Howard Kunstler, Home from Nowhere
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The more successfully a city mingles everyday diversity of uses and users in its everyday streets, the more successfully, casually (and economically) its people thereby enliven and support well-located parks that can thus give back grace and delight to their neighborhoods instead of vacuity.
– Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities
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The magic of the street is the mingling of the errand and the epiphany.
– Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking
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Despite the urban liveability prospects of Shanghai’s walkable sidewalks, new road construction and private car ownership are on the rise. It is projected that 2.5 million private cars will populate Shanghai by 2020, and the daily count of motor vehicle trips will increase more than twofold from the previous three million or so in 2000 (Zheng, 2005).
How might a view taken from the sidewalk alter the population debate? I imagine that the line of argument would begin with a paradigm reversal—one that calls for a cap, not on the population of urban inhabitants but, more radically, on the population of cars. As Jane Jacobs wrote in The Death and Life of Great American Cities:
Traffic congestion is caused by vehicles, not by people in themselves.