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The Weight of Development: Could Shanghai Be Sinking?

The Weight of Development: Could Shanghai Be Sinking?

Shanghai’s economy is rapidly growing, but the city itself may be sinking. Reports of cracks in the sidewalks and streets in recent years have left residents and city officials worried about the future of such a dense city. Shanghai has apparently sunk more than 2 metres in the last 15 years and continues to sink

Shanghai’s economy is rapidly growing, but the city itself may be sinking. Reports of cracks in the sidewalks and streets in recent years have left residents and city officials worried about the future of such a dense city. Shanghai has apparently sunk more than 2 metres in the last 15 years and continues to sink at a rate of about 1.5 centimetres per year.

Shanghai Pudong

Built on the Yangtze River Delta, Shanghai’s geology seems unfit to support such development. It appears that the construction of thousands of buildings in the past few decades has put added force on the already susceptible foundation. Moreover, an increased amount of groundwater is being pumped out of the soil to supply water to the ever-expanding population of Shanghai, making the area more and more fragile.

The Pudong district, China’s premier financial and business centre, is an area that has seen some of the most serious reports of cracks and sinking. Located on the East side of the Huangpu River, Pudong now houses more than 5 million people, with over 4,000 people per km2. It is sometimes hard to believe that just 25 years ago this densely populated area was underdeveloped farmland. Part of China’s economic growth plan, Pudong was slated for development in the early 1990s and has seen unprecedented growth and construction since. The area is currently the site of construction on the Shanghai Tower, which will be the tallest building in China and the second tallest in the world at 631 metres when completed in 2014.

Officials have acknowledged the problem and reassured the public that they are monitoring the situation and pumping water back into the ground to stabilize the soil foundation. Many continue to worry and criticize developers for continuing to build despite safety concerns. For now, however, it seems like the rapid development of the past few years is catching up with Shanghai.

What can Shanghai, and other cities facing similar problems, do to mitigate the effects of construction? Are there sustainable options that may minimize the effects of such rapid growth?

Credits: Photo by Sophie Plottel. Data linked to sources.

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Sophie Plottel, a former GSP blogger, is a graduate of Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario with a Bachelor of Arts in Geography and a minor concentration in Global Development Studies. A native of Vancouver, Canada, she is interested in the co...

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