This is an incomplete, opening entry on a subject that's increasingly on my mind: who is responsible for the look and feel of today's enormous, expanding Chinese cities, and who is happy and unhappy about their emerging character.
Two reasons it's on my mind at the moment:
- Spent several days again in Shanghai, my former home, after being away for eight months;
- Recently went to the top of Beijing's first true skyscraper, the newly-opened Park Hyatt hotel, and saw the city from an entirely different perspective while on the building's 65th floor.
This is not a "which do you like better?" discussion, which I've learned to finesse in a way that is both politic and true. Having now spent an equal amount of time based in each city, my wife and I have learned to appreciate the virtues of both. Their virtues are different, as Chicago's are from LA's, but are both real. (In short: we've learned more from being in Beijing, and we enjoyed the texture of daily life more in Shanghai. We feel fortunate to have lived in each place.)
Rather the question is why the look and feel of Beijing seem so clearly to represent the direction Chinese cities are heading. To oversimplify what this means: although Shanghai probably contains more people than Beijing, it feels smaller. The roads are narrower, they're more likely to bend or twist, the city unfolds on a smaller scale of neighborhoods and courtyards and little houses. Beijing is bigger and squarer and broader and more grandly imposing. To illustrate: a photo of the intersection outside our building in Beijing, followed by a place we were walking ten days ago in Shanghai.