The Museum of Urban Planning

by francine Hardaway on November 23, 2005

Shanghai actually has an urban planning museum. In it, visitors can see a floor-size scale model of what Shanghai will look like in 2020, accompanied by virtual tours, videos, and propaganda about the “meilleur ville, meilleur vie” (better city, better life) to which they can look forward in the future.. Residents come to this museum to see if their houses will still be standing in 2020, or will have been torn down as part of some municipal redevelopment plan.

The Chinese government’s plan for Shanghai is very specific and focussed. The city will remain a center for trade, but it will be re-forested, its pollution will be gone, and its citizens will live in planned communities. No more of the haphazard growth that comes as a result of commerce. Nine new towns are planned, as well as a huge industrial and R park designed to catapult Shanghai into the forefront of technology. Waste water treatment plants are being built, “clean” nuclear power is replacing coal, and industrial zones are being consolidated from 200 to 78. The industrial zones of the future will be pollution-free pleasant places to work.

I’ve never seen so much organized economic development hype. In America, none of this centralized planning could take place, because we would be having town meetings where NIMBYs would be packing the halls to prevent change and activists would be insisting that things be brought to a vote. In a communist society, they don’t have to worry about any of that, and as a result Shanghai was essentially re-invented over the past twenty years.

China’s new industrial planning is even more frightening because it takes place in a context of intellectual property theft and human rights violations. And because it seems to be succeeding so quickly.

Not to mention the fact that the government thinks nothing of building a museum to showcase its own master plan. This plan guides real estate development, industrial policy, and every other aspect of Shanghai life. The museum creates the perception of change, and convinces the people change is coming. Because of the scale model on floors 3 and 4 of the museum, residents and visitors alike are convinced the future will be as it is visualized.

It was a very eerie feeling coming out of that museum. None of the random results of a democracy are seen in China; everything happens as it should. I remember when, in the 1950s, the Soviet government had plans like these. Five year plans. Ten year plans. In the Soviet Union, the plans never happened as advertised. And perhaps that’s why the Cold War ended the way it did — not with a bang, but with a whimper.

But what if the plans of the Chinese government succeed?

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Yoram Adler October 25, 2007 at 4:07 am

if at the end the the city planing reaches it’s goal, and it’s a good one, why look for faults.
the reality is that sometimes you have to centralize decision making or nothing will change, and sometimes people need to be told what’s good for them like children.

compared with north korea china is a democracy haven. I guess since they don’t let you in nothing wrong can be said about them.

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