Invest in people


London to Ho Chi Minh by train (and boat!): Day 43.

Coming to the end of a wonderful weekend in the lovely, cosmopolitan metropolis of Shanghai. Skyscrapers, independent boutiques, pristine parks and gourmet dining… The streets are perfectly lit, immaculately kept and planted with lush trees and shrubs everywhere you go. It feels totally safe… Much more so than any city I’ve been to in Europe or the US. All this and yet it retains character and personality. In terms of urban planning and design, any big city in the world could take tips from Shanghai.

This is the city of Chinese bankers, European expats living it up, Japanese weekend-tourists and French business men still holding on to their colonial roots. It’s a city for the rich. There are almost no beggars. If you sit down on a step, you are asked to move on.

It feels like how I imagine Disney Land would; disconnected from reality. The shops and bars and cafes and metro and taxis and parks and monuments all conspire to separate the wheat from the chaff; the rich from the poor.

As a city, Shanghai is not unique in this respect. But the separation feels starker. More proudly deliberate… which is scary.

Clean streets, beautiful trees and inspiring architecture aren’t evil. They aren’t bad at all. But policies that allow only some people to enjoy them are. Surely we should be prioritizing improvements in public space in the poor communities first?

Cities that are designed for the elite rather than the people who actually live in them are missing out on vibrancy, diversity and ultimately, soul.

When we invest in the people instead of trying to keep them out (or keep them poor) a city like Shanghai can go from being genuinely impressive to truly awesome.

Next stop: Xi’an — in Shanghai, China.

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