There is an amazing glimpse into the future here inside the Shanghai Urban Planning Museum (supec.org). On the third floor, there is a huge, awe-inspiring scale model of urban Shanghai as it will look in 2020. This giant replica of the city is observed from a large platform around and above the model. It is full of skyscrapers that appear to stretch for miles and miles in all directions. There are patches of green throughout symbolizing existing parks and clear plastic models that indicate structures still to be built, of which there are many. It lays out clearly the city leaders future intent for Shanghai, which is to be functional, dynamic, livable, and prosperous. It is a stunning, visionary master plan.
Viewing this scale model for the first time last week was transformative for me. How in the world could people plan, to the last building, the future layout of a city of 24 million people? My sister-in-law, Casey, and I circled the model at least three times. (It is huge and takes about 5 minutes to walk around once). As we were peering and prowling around the vast metropolis of Shanghai that lay below us. I realized that although I have scootered and been driven all around Shanghai, I had only touched about 5 percent of the entire city during those excursions. I felt small in front of the scale model, but also excited at all that I had still to discover. I also was stunned at the vitality that the model conveyed. It clearly was created by people who only looked forward, not back.
Seeing the model made me think of Detroit, a city that is going in the exact opposite direction of Shanghai and clearly lacking any kind of master plan. When we left for China last summer, I thought that there was only one way for that city to go and that was up. I was sure that when we returned this summer things would be visibly turning around and we would see tangible signs of the resurrection of Detroit. Instead, the city declared bankruptcy. It was the largest municipal bankruptcy in the history of the United States and, in my opinion, probably overdue.
Here in China, thanks to Philip and his awesome VPN Avalink (link.avalaa.com), I regularly read the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press, as well as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the Los Angeles Times. So, I shouldn’t have been surprised at the state in which I found Detroit, but I have to say, I was stunned at the decline. I drove through many neighborhoods on the east and west sides. They were horrific and empty, full of overgrown fields and abandoned houses. I was born in Detroit and what I saw made me sad.
That’s why I thought of Detroit when I saw the scale model of Shanghai’s future. What if city leaders created a scale model of Detroit and plotted its future, instead of focusing on its demise? What if they laid out future buildings, areas for viable neighborhoods, and entertainment zones located somewhere other than near sports stadiums? I know… naive and not plausible due to Detroit politics, corruption, poverty, demographics, history, geography, etc., but looking at that scale model of Shanghai’s future gave me a glimmer of hope for Detroit, something more than a Whole Foods or new sports bar downtown. A smaller, repopulated city with thriving neighborhoods. A city with a plan, like Shanghai.
There was a town in Michigan however that did exceed my expectations and that, surprisingly, was Grosse Pointe. Holy crap, talk about having an economic development plan. Yes, there is still a big hole in the Village where Borders once loomed. And Mack Avenue, with its abominable parking situation, is as dicey for businesses as ever. But Grosse Pointe Park at its west end on Kercheval is absolutely booming. Restaurants are going up there like crazy, including a German biergarden in the newly renovated Grace United Church, by my friend and former Atwater Brewing partner Mark Rieth (atwaterbeer.com). The girls and I attended two “After 6” block parties on that stretch of Kercheval that were very well attended and full of both families and 20-somethings. Everyone was listening to music, bar and restaurant hopping, and generally having a great time. It was fun and pleasantly unusual for Grosse Pointe.
Overall, our time back in Grosse Pointe was wonderful. The girls and I got to hang with lots of friends and family. (Karen spent most of the summer here in Shanghai, where average temperatures were about 105 degrees.) We did all of our various doctor and dentist appointments, and Cassidy and Stephanie spent a week at the horse riding camp Black River Farm and Camp (blackriverfarmandcamp.com). When Karen finally got back to Michigan, we spent a relaxing week at a wonderful house that we rent on Lake Leelanau. All in all, a pretty fun, productive trip back to Michigan.
As great as our trip home was, I have to admit I spent a lot of time longing to be back in Shanghai. When I returned and saw that scale model of the city at the Planning Museum, I understood why: Unlike Detroit, Shanghai is like a living, dynamic, growing organism that is ever pushing outward. It is inherently unfair to compare Detroit in any way to this place, but Shanghai is a city of possibilities, both for the masses and individuals. Every day, I wake up and step outside into the energy and realize there is nothing I cannot do in Shanghai. This city is a beast, full of drive, focus, and optimism that, as the scale model highlights, will devour and assimilate anything in its path. That makes living here wildly exciting.
I hope that I, and the many of my fellow Metro Detroiters who currently reside here in Shanghai, can bring some elements of that beast home with us when we finally return. Detroit was once very much like Shanghai, having been one of the fastest growing cities on the planet at one point, and home to a rapidly growing and newly wealthy middle class.
Despite what I saw this summer, I’m hopeful for the city, and cautiously optimistic about its future. Next summer, I hope Detroit surprises me like Grosse Pointe did, with restaurants opening everywhere and people filling the still viable neighborhoods around the city. And it would be really cool to see a big scale model of the newly revived city, maybe prominently placed downtown in the middle of Campus Martius Park. A master plan for Detroit.
BREAKING SHANGHAI NEWS FOR EXPATS: We came back to Shanghai to find a brand new Times Market had opened up in our neighborhood. I discovered the flagship Times Market well after I wrote a post on food shopping in Shanghai last November. It’s a great little Western food market near the corner of Pudong and Weifang roads and carries some foods from the U.S. that I haven’t found anywhere else. The new Times Market on Huangyang road here in Jinqiao is much bigger and is about as close to Kroger’s as you are ever going to see in China. If it keeps its inventory up, my days of hitting 4-5 stores a week to get our shopping done should be over. Also in Jiinqiao on the food shopping front, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention BLT Food Market. It is located on Fangdian road in the basement of Laya Plaza (across from Thumb Plaza) and does a very good job of providing Western goods, as well as exceptional produce, particularly fruit. It strives mightily to get organic produce on its shelves, which is not an easy thing to do in Shanghai, and which I really appreciate.
Also, as many who follow this blog know, I am particularly tickled at how fun and easy it is to get all forms of alcohol delivered to my door. Sometime during the summer, a guy named Marcus, from a company called Shanghai9 (shanghai9.net), found the blog and read about my inability to find Frangelico in China. He sent me a note saying they were rich in the liqueur. I occasionally mix Frangelico together with Bailey’s to make my wife’s favorite nightcap, a Nutty Irishman. I ordered a bottle from the website when I returned to Shanghai, and sure enough they delivered it the next day. Nothing like good customer service when it comes to delivering booze to your front door.
AND NOW, COMPLETELY GRATUITOUS PICTURES OF OUR SUMMER: