Why Mumbai cannot become Shanghai

The man who would launch the building of the new Shanghai, Mayor Zhu Rongji, like all of history’s authoritarian city builders, had the mind of an engineer. As one famous anecdote has it, at a state dinner in Australia, Zhu went to the bathroom and was gone for so long that his worried hosts went to check on him. Found in his shirtsleeves tinkering with the toilet tank, Zhu embarrassingly explained that he had grown so fascinated by the Australian water-conserving commode that he couldn’t resist taking apart its dual-flush system and putting it back together again. “We must introduce this toilet to China,” Zhu gushed in his fluent English. [10] But the engineer-mayor’s ultimate passion wasn’t for minor advances in toilet hydraulics. He preferred civil engineering on a pharaonic scale.

Soon after Deng approved his Wall Street of the East plan, Zhu held a meeting with Western financial executives at the top of the Peace Hotel (formerly the Cathay) on the Bund. Zhu directed the assembled bankers to look out across the Huangpu River to Pudong. The blighted spit of land they looked down on, he explained with the calm assurance of the certifiably insane, would become the world’s leading financial center. “It was just warehouses and shacks and rice paddies,” a Wall Street executive in attendance later recalled. “And there were people living there. So I asked Zhu, ‘What are you going to do about all of those people?’ And he just said, ‘We’ll move them.’”

And move them he did. In Pudong, 300,000 residents were pushed out of their homes and relocated to high-rise apartments. [11] The repetitive rehousing slabs — just stacks of simple rooms rising 25 stories in the air — may have been a physical improvement over the shacks of the old Pudong, but many inhabitants were loath to move, fearing the destruction of their village-like neighborhoods’ sense of community. Those who failed to appreciate their government’s largesse were forcibly evicted by armed police and hired goons. Oftentimes, the authorities would cut off water and electricity to neighborhoods they were clearing to convince the hesitant. Overall, one million families were moved in the effort to remake Shanghai. [12]

-from DesignObserver

 

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