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.
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.
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.