Shanghai’s green heart

WORDS: Dion Chang

When you think of China, you probably think about factories, sweat shops and cheap labour: an unstoppable economic force that’s steam rolling its way into the 21st century and across the planet. Dion Chang admits that the last thing he would have associated with Shanghai was greenery.

On a recent trip to China my own misconceptions were quickly shattered, especially in Shanghai, a city that is home to 23 million people. One of the places I was lucky enough to visit was Shanghai’s Urban Planning Museum. Shanghai is a futuristic metropolis with some of the world’s most progressive architecture. It’s also spotless. I was keen to see how it’s possible to plan and manage a city of this magnitude, and make it run so efficiently.

One of the most impressive sections of the museum was a floor devoted to Shanghai’s green philosophy. With so much concrete and with summer temperatures nudging 40 degrees, the city planners use plants to not only help cool the city down, but also to assist with eliminating pollution: plants also make for a very pretty city.

Five components make up the city’s green philosophy. Wherever they could, the city planners would implement greening via circles, wedges, corridors, parks and finally, on the edge of the city, forests. The first three are only noticeable once you understand the pre-planning involved.

Whenever you reach a spaghetti junction of highways, you find an incredible circular garden. In between the tall (and ubiquitous) apartment blocks, you’ll see corridors of green, and in between roads and buildings, wherever there’s a wedge-shaped space, it will be green.

One of the most remarkable sights was a string of planters (much like window-box planters) hugging the edge of the highways. There were literally thousands of them, and all planted with real vegetation. I’m not sure how – and by whom – these are maintained, but they make a subtle yet enormous difference to what could be just another concrete jungle.

From now on I will always think of Shanghai first and foremost as a green city, rather than for the futuristic, skyscraper skyline it has become known for.

* Dion Chang is a corporate trend analyst and design consultant. He is also a freelance journalist, columnist and social commentator.