Shanghai’s European Suburbs

A decade ago, as Shanghai’s population approached 18 million and housing prices skyrocketed, the city decided to act. City planners developed an initiative called “One City, Nine Towns”—satellite suburbs would be built on farmland outside Shanghai to house one million people by 2020.

Each town would create an identity through its internationally inspired architecture and attractions. Outside the themed areas, which make up perhaps 5 percent of the new developments, construction proceeds at a breakneck pace.

Developers thought European themes would be attractive to Shanghai’s new rich, but ten years after launching the project, some themed towns remain empty. Others have barely broken ground; yet others have stalled, half-finished, victims of poor planning or political graft. (Another planned city, Dongtan, which is frequently included with the Nine Towns as the unofficial tenth town, has been delayed indefinitely after Shanghai Communist Party chief Chen Liangyu, who was supporting the effort, was arrested on corruption charges.) All of the towns, says French architect R�mi Ferrand, who studied them as part of a book about the region’s development fit into Shanghai’s landscape in different ways; the city, with its period of British and French occupation has always been regarded as a somewhat foreign place. Building these international “New Towns” is, in a way, “like the continuation of a story.”

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