Anna Greenspan on Shanghai’s Future


Shanghai's future
The Huangpu River and a sliver of the Bund skyline

Two years ago, we sat down with Shanghai docent Anna Greenspan to talk about the Shanghai’s future. At the time, Anna was working on the book that would turn into Shanghai Future: Modernity Remade which will be released June 27th (C. Hurst & Co. Ltd.). A philosophy and urbanism professor at NYU Shanghai, Anna’s  first book, entitled India and the IT Revolution: Networks of Global Culture (Palgrave, 2005), explored India’s burgeoning software industry and its implications for contemporary globalization. She has also written widely on the growing exchanges between India and China. Anna first came to Shanghai in 2002 and has gradually became obsessed with the future oriented metropolis. With her book just a month shy of publication, Anna sat down with us to talk Shanghai’s future.

“I came to Shanghai in 2002. We wanted to live in Asia, and a friend from Taiwan recommended Shanghai. I thought it would be exciting, but very intensethat it would be the kind of place that would be fun to check out, but only for a short while. What surprised me is how liveable the city is. Shanghai’s vibrant street life, wonderful parks, varied architecture and delicious food is a constant delight. This mixture of fast paced excitement, ceaseless intellectual stimulation and everyday charm is why I stay.”

Shanghai's future
©C. Hurst & Co. Publishers Ltd.

Context Travel: What will Shanghai will look like in 5 years? 10?

Anna Greenspan: One big question for Shanghai is what will happen this year when Shanghai Tower is complete. Will this be the end of the city’s super tall construction? As far as I know, there are no plans for more iconic skyscrapers, yet other cities in China and throughout Asia  continue to build major towers. It would be surprising if this kind of construction just came to a halt in Shanghai. Shanghai, like other world cities, is embracing a kind of green urbanism. I am very interested in how this issue localizes. My most current research, which I am conducting in conjunction with the Shanghai Studies Society focuses on the question of what the ‘nature of cities’ really means in this part of the world.

CT: Why is Shanghai able to develop at a much more rapid rate than equivalent cities across the worldNew York or London for example, or even Tokyo?

AG: Each of these cities has also gone through periods of very rapid growth. It is fascinating that certain cities at certain times go through moments of explosive growth and then stop. This is particularly evident when one looks at the question of infrastructure. Subway systems, for example, are laid down all at once and then, later, even the most minor additions become almost impossible. What interests me most are the ripple effects of Shanghai’s current growth. What will be its lasting legacy? How will it reshape our ideas and experiences of modernity? What, in the end, is the meaning of its rise?

CT: Is pollution the price of progress? Does your book deal with this at all and, if so, what do you see happening in the next 5-10 years?

AG: My book doesn’t deal with the question of pollution in great detail, but I think the fact that this is such a major issue in China now is reason for hope. Clearly cleaner air, water, and soil are amongst the most important issues facing China today, and are hopefully in Shanghai’s future. I do not subscribe to the idea, however, that this means progress has to slow. Instead, my guess is that China will be better able to deal with its environmental issues if it sustains a growth rate of 7-10 % than if it goes through some kind of dramatic economic slowdown.

CT: What do future visitors to Shanghai have to look forward to?

AG: Shanghai is in the midst of crucial transition. Much of the urban infrastructure has already been built, yet, who or what will occupy the metropolis is still unclear. This is particularly obvious in the realm of culture. A huge number of museums, theaters, and other cultural institutions have been built in the past few years but, most of the timeto use the clichéd expressionthe software doesn’t match the hardware. For Shanghai’s future to fulfill its ambitions and become the future metropolis of the 21st century this will have to change.

Visitors to Shanghai can look forward to an encounter with one of the world’s great cities at an enormously exciting time. Anna Greenspan leads our Accelerated City and People’s Park: City in Miniature walks.