May 22 2013

One City, Nine Towns: Shanghai’s Western Suburbs

Over a decade ago, as the population of Shanghai soared, density was at an all time high and Chinese urban planners, realizing the city’s growth was unsustainable, they proposed a new solution to the problem: decentralization. The “1 city, 9 towns” project revealed in 2001 was proposed as a creative solution to the increasing urban density.

Shanghai Thames Town

The proposal sought to create 9 medium sized towns in the suburbs of Shanghai that would house between 50,000-100,000 people each. In an attempt to appeal to newly rich residents seeking a suburban relocation, developers approached architects and urban designers from various countries to design themed replica villages in the style of their own countries. Today, a handful of these towns have been built including a Spanish Town, a British Town, a Scandinavian Town, Canadian Town, Dutch Town, Italian Town and a German Town. Each town seems to be an odd and unsuccessful stereotypical recreation of a 3 or 4 block area of the respective countries. Shanghai Thames Town

Thames Town, probably the best-known town, appears to function only as a bizarre attraction for curious visitors or as a romantic backdrop for wedding photos. Otherwise, this replica English village – complete with red telephone booths, cobbled streets and ‘Thames’ river – appears almost empty.

Despite a highly ambitious plan, none of these towns has seen much success. Their few homes sit empty and the streets eerily quiet. One of the main problem with these towns is the lack of access to public transportation. Currently, many of the towns are over an hour or two away from the centre of Shanghai by car and even longer using a combination of taxi, buses and metro. In addition, the homes are incredibly expensive and not contextualized to suit Chinese tastes or lifestyle, making them undesirable and inaccessible for potential residents. Finally, there seems to be little drawing people to these towns. Few businesses or industries are located in the vicinity, forcing potential residents to drive long distances for work and everyday errands.

How can cities cope with urban sprawl and density? Are there successful ways to force decentralization?

Credits: Data and photos linked to sources.

Sophie Plottel

Sophie Plottel, a former GSP blogger, is a graduate of Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario with a Bachelor of Arts in Geography and a minor concentration in Global Development Studies. A native of Vancouver, Canada, she is interested in the continuing efforts of cities to adapt their policies and development strategies in response to climate change. Currently pursuing a master's of science in planning at the University of Toronto, she is studying the policies of sustainable urban development in emerging cities. After living in Shanghai, China for a year, she has became actively involved in Shanghai’s emerging environmental movement and enjoyed exploring the city's vibrant and diverse streetscape.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013 at 9:48 am and is filed under Architecture, Community/Economic Development, Government/Politics, History/Preservation, Infrastructure, Land Use, Landscape Architecture, Social/Demographics, Transportation, Urban Development/Real Estate, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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One Response to “One City, Nine Towns: Shanghai’s Western Suburbs”

  1. China gasta €590 milhões em réplica de cidade inglesa (com FOTOS) | Green Savers Says:

    […] cidade foi construída para o projecto “One City, Nine Towns” (“Uma cidade, nove vilas”, em português), que previa uma cidade e nove vilas satélite à […]

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