Part III of our special report on the most important cities in the world
If China is, as Jeffrey Sachs has said, the "most successful development story in world history," then Shanghai is the apotheosis of global development. A picture says a thousand words, but in the case of Shanghai, the following two pictures say so much more. The first image below is dated 1990. The second is from 2010. In a city whose GDP grew by double-digits every year for more than 20 consecutive years, this is what transformational growth looks like:
Without context, you might think of Chinese economic history as a long, sad flat line that suddenly decided to shoot up in after the fall of the Soviet Empire. Nothing could be further from the truth. At various points in history, China's oceanfront cities have been among the most advanced in the world. In the 1920s, Shanghai was known alternatively as the "Athens of th East" and the "Paris of the East." The 1928 photo below explains why. The Bund, the city's famous waterfront, could have been mistaken for a bustling European boulevard -- just as today, the same stretch of road, people, cars and buildings maintains a distinct 21st-century Euro-feel. Shanghai's genesis is truly a renaissance.
There is a wonderful anecdote in Fareed Zakaria's book, The Post-American World, where he describes two trips to Pudong, to the east of the Shanghai (the city's history is apparently best understood through diptych). In the mid-1990s, the district was mostly farmland. Today it is the global financial center of China, only slightly smaller than the entire city of Chicago, and "densely studded with towers of glass and steel and lit like a Christmas tree every night."
Even with China's superheroic growth now in question, Shanghai is projected to become perhaps the world's most economically powerful city in the next two decades. Already the size of Finland, the metro's GDP is growing faster than every big city in the world, according to the Brookings Institution. Within the 200 richest cities in the world, only Shenyang achieved faster income growth than Shanghai in 2010 and only Riyadh achieved faster employment growth. By 2025, the McKinsey Global Institute projects that Shanghai will grow faster than every other city, leapfrogging London to become the third richest metro in the world.