O futuro no outro lado do mundo


Published on August 3, 2008
Magazine Megacidades – Estadão

Click here to read an English version of the article

Eduardo Nunomura, Special Envoy

It is hard to imagine that, just under 20 years ago, rice fields were sprouting at the foot of the Jin Mao Tower, a 420-meter building that piles business offices and a 555-room hotel. The swampy fields stretched along the banks of the winding Huangpu River. In 1990, when the world barely assimilated the fall of the Berlin Wall, Pudong District was still devoted to producing food to feed Shanghai and other Chinese cities. Out of nowhere, and the expression is not free, the emerald green of the crops has become one of the most vibrant skylines on the planet. The jumble of dubious skyscrapers seems to have been transplanted there. Alongside Jin Mao, Chinese are completing construction of the Shanghai World Financial Center, which will be China’s largest 492-meter building. When the sun goes down, the shadows of the giant buildings advance over blocks. And then, as night falls, a festival of spotlights and cannons of colored lights comes up. Boats-billboards parade with HD screens. The picture goes back to science fiction movies or a 21st century casino. This is the story of Shanghai’s unrivaled constructive orgy.
The peal of steel, the piercing drills and drills, the deafening hammering, and the shivering of rebar mounting make up the new symphony that has smothered the usual noises of a metropolis. It is common to hear exultant Chinese patriots with the frantic pace. They want Shanghai to be even taller, futuristic, fast, modern and brash. And to get there they are willing to face all sorts of trials in a city where growth at any cost justifies the means. As if to strictly follow a motto by Mao Zedong: “A good companion is one who is eager to go where the difficulties are greatest.”
Jin and Zhang’s life is restricted to a construction site. They sleep on a mat over concrete blocks and wood siding. By day their faces look like those of a lime mine worker. Dust hides his thin, sloppy beard and whitens his black hair. Only at night have time to clean up. Soon, their overnight stay in the building will become a gleaming gas-heated, air-conditioned office that is so lacking in freezing winters or muggy Chinese summers. To eat, the duo have an electric stove, a luxury that only loses to the 14 inch TV. Nearby there is no restaurant, grocery store, supermarket or pharmacy. Everything is under construction on this block of Suzhou Creek. They are happy that thanks to work they can build a place for their children to live in poor Jiangsu Province, north of shanghai. An eastern father considers it a matter of honor to direct the fate of the offspring. Jin, 43, has a son of 22; and Zhang, 45, another 20.
“When I bring fashion products home, I feel very proud and powerful,” says Jin. “It’s much easier to make money in Shanghai.” The appliances and the shirts, trousers and blouses with western brands that so enchant the duo are the result of the 3,000 yuan each. A fortune. They only have vacations a week or two a year. Across China, human resources companies specialize in hiring rural labor, outsourced to the industry. Thus, Jin and Zhang have guaranteed jobs. “We have no ambition or goals, not at our age. No big deal will happen to us,” says Zhang. “We just want our children to have a better life.”
The dizzying growth has attracted millions of workers like Jin and Zhang to the urban area. Of the more than 15 million inhabitants, it is estimated that migrants are 4.5 million. Such a large mass of workers that cheapens the supply of labor as has rarely occurred in the history of mankind. What makes Professor Liu Cheng of Shanghai University’s Faculty of Law and Politics fear for the future: “We are moving from being one of the most egalitarian nations to the most unequal of all.” A government adviser on labor reform, the first since opening up to a market economy, he warns that for China to offer cheap products, there are costs that other consumer nations are unwilling to afford. One is the salary paid to workers. The floor is equivalent to $ 280, be it in construction or in a factory. According to the professor, the American Chamber of Commerce opposed clauses that protected the rights of the Chinese, including the termination of indirect hiring of labor. American unions may complain of unequal competition with Chinese products, but corporations do not want to give up cheap products. “Our workers could earn up to 50 % more. We just want them to be entitled to their share of economic growth.” But corporations don’t want to give up cheap products. “Our workers could earn up to 50 % more. We just want them to be entitled to their share of economic growth.” But corporations don’t want to give up cheap products. “Our workers could earn up to 50 % more. We just want them to be entitled to their share of economic growth.”
Shanghai is not a work of chance. In the 19th century, the city was the busiest port in the country. The most cosmopolitan Chinese city was divided into concessions, territories controlled by English, French, Americans, Russians, and Japanese. In them, the access of Chinese was restricted. With the communist revolution of 1949, China became an obscure unknown to the West. The world was suspicious, but could not calculate the forced displacements of millions from urban areas to the countryside, nor the summary executions of opponents of the regime. Not until the mid-1980s, when the government decided to plunge into the market economy, was Shanghai chosen to lead the transition. And it didn’t look ugly. What we see today as modern and innovative did not exist before the 1990s. Chinese megacities function as nation-states, with powerful and rich prefectures, able to make independent decisions. Members of the Communist Party, mayors have a mission to make them prosper. Then comes the gear of patriotic propaganda: the rulers make plans, the businessmen touch the works, and the people are informed through one of seven official public TV channels, yet another national feat.
In a regime in which prices, minds, and almost everything that can be controlled are controlled, Shanghai has taken advantage by buying raw materials from other Chinese cities at minimal prices and selling their manufactures at overpriced prices. Communist Party mates got rich by taking over privatized companies. Today, the economy is based on heavy public investment from Chinese capitalists and foreign funds. With yuan notes left in the square, megacity has been growing at a double-digit pace.
In 2007, 13.3 % compared to the 11.9 % . Seven sectors drive growth: automotive, semiconductor, petrochemical, finance, trade, real estate, and construction. Pudong with its skyscrapers is the symbol of this economic dynamism. So much so that Shanghai people often say, “If Shanghai is leading the Chinese economy, Pudong is leading Shanghai.” This financial district alone is home to 4 million people and hundreds of international offices eager to do business in China. More than 700 foreign architectural and engineering offices set up bases in the city. In the world, only Beijing and Dubai rival Shanghai in size and volume of investments. In deciding to be part of this gold rush, Danish architect Henrik Valeur, 42, knew he had to be in Shanghai. Passages through Copenhagen, Barcelona, ​​Rotterdam, and Los Angeles were historically and architecturally relevant, but kept a foot in the past.
“Shanghai’s recent history shows that high-speed, large-scale urban development is possible,” says Valeur. “It serves as an example of how to tackle poverty on a global scale.” Valeur, who in 2007 was a jury member of the São Paulo International Architecture Biennial, justifies his enthusiasm by pointing out that over the past three decades, a contingent of 120 million people have migrated from the countryside, where they lived in extreme poverty, to the large Chinese cities, but the metropolises have not exploded in slums, as is often the case in other parts of the world. “Shanghai’s urbanization resembles that of Paris and London, which were not pleasant places to live, but still everyone wanted to be there.”
Chinese like housewife Cheng Jin Hong, 48, feel the effects of accelerated growth better than anyone. She lives in Port Zhu Xing, one of the indistinct neighborhoods erected after the country fell into Communist hands. Her husband, a retired steel worker, got the apartment for free in one of the socialist housing developments. These three-story buildings are well-ventilated and shared by unrelated families except that they are harmless to the government. The buildings were never renovated.
Aluminum basins are barely aware of roof holes in rainy days, and in some cases these houses resemble tenements. Although previously unknown, the neighbors of South Central Mountain Street have become close over the years. All with stories like that of the caring lady who raises chickens in the yard common to the block’s residents and doesn’t care that the animals will claw in Jin Hong’s kitchen. She doesn’t care, she likes to live there. “When we get older, it’s always nice to have acquaintances around,” explains Jin Hong. This chapter has a date and time to end. Tractors and trucks are already approaching. In weeks, machines will sweep the map whole blocks. The chicken farmer’s neighboring houses are already coming down. Life stories crammed into wreckage of dust and rubble. Shortly thereafter the space will gain very tall buildings with elevators, watchtowers and segregating gates. “They said we should move. We’re waiting.”
The Chinese government’s plan is to make Shanghai ally with Tokyo and both become as influential financial capitals as New York and London. For its strategic location at the mouth of the Yangtze Delta, the third largest river in the world, tons of goods made in China pass through Shanghai. In 2005, less than four years after construction began, the first phase of Yangshan Port, which already handles 70,000 tons of cargo per day, was completed. It is a 10-square-kilometer man-made island erected offshore, a way to escape the congestion of ships at the dock. Engineers had to build a 32.5-kilometer long-sea bridge, Dongai, which links Shanghai to the mountain sedimented by tons of sand. By 2021, the government intends to invest R $ 19,
To land today in Shanghai is to see modernity and the archaic merging in a very peculiar way. It is not uncommon to find a tall, high-glazed building next to others in which underwear is stretched out the window. Or witness the exit of imported cars from gated communities next to markets that sell roast chicken to live fish in plastic buckets. Chinese like to live in community. They are people raising animals in the backyards, cleaning their ears or cutting hair from acquaintances on the street, playing cards. For them, each space is public.
And that explains the small number of parks and plazas – that’s 288.7 km2, or 4.5 {megacity} size. Today one Shanghai occupies 15 square meters of living space, double what it had before the 1949 renovations. For the construction of a large center, industries have been forced to relocate to the suburbs. Four satellite cities were erected around Shanghai, each mimicking German, Italian, Scandinavian and Chinese villages. As they are distant and do not have good transportation, they did not succeed.
At dawn, Shanghai wakes up covered by a dense gray layer of toxic gases emitted by the industries on the outskirts. And so it goes on throughout the day. It is the other side of progress. In a nod to the world, megacity plans to build the first ecological island, Chongming. The promise is to be ready by 2020. More than a satellite city, it wants to serve as a sustainability laboratory. It will be linked to Shanghai, whose city bank supports the project, by a bridge that will cross the Yangtze River. The crossing that takes two hours today will be done in 45 minutes. “Who wants to live so far away?” Asks 35-year-old motorcycle taxi driver Jun Hou. He knows traffic like few, carrying passengers on a motorized tricycle. You earn about $ 556 a month. Hou does not complain about the confusing traffic or pollution of Shanghai. More horns and heavy air than living in one of the satellite cities where his parents moved. A resident of the married Puxi district, father of a son, Hou was afraid he had nothing to do there. One day he read in a newspaper that the government wants to reduce the number of bicycles and increase the number of cars. “They are right about bicycles, but they are wrong with cars, which are already too many and do not respect the bikes.”
The fleet of 2 million vehicles is small but large enough to traffic the roads. The automotive industry employs almost half a million people and earns $ 1.7 billion in taxes. You have to keep the Chinese buying and running to run the cars you make. The target by 2010 is to reach 9,500 kilometers of highways from various parts of the country to the Yangtze Delta. The strategy of reducing bicycles aims to reduce their confrontation with vehicles. The city wants to remove a quarter of the 9 million units, but the Chinese ignore the measure and the new fashion is to buy a battery-powered kit for R $ 331. Without pedaling, runs at 30 kilometers per hour, smart solution for a city without hillsides. Especially with the expanding subway. The ambitious goals,
In the streets of megacity, few places mention the Olympic Games in Beijing. Shanghai only want to talk about Expo 2010, a world fair that will discuss the future of cities. It aims to attract an audience of 70 million. Twenty roads will be built connecting other cities to Shanghai, and 11 to the Expo site, an area of ​​5.28 km2 between the Nanpu and Lupu bridges on the banks of the Huangpu River. It is estimated an expense of $ 7.8 billion. The real estate sector plans to launch a thousand new buildings by the date of the event. Anything in between should come out. The 140-year-old Jiangnan Shipyard ship factory is being reassembled elsewhere.
Even when the authorities recognize the importance of preserving history, a new business window opens. In Puxi district, the Xintiandi district is preserving the French architecture of the concession era. Two blocks fossilized by the years of the Maoist revolution were incorporated by a foreign company that restored houses to house dozens of sophisticated bars and restaurants. This new address was ready in five years at a cost of $ 249 million. The first Communist Party of China congress was held there in 1920. Today it is a museum.
But the megacity it likes is to target the 21st century and one of the Xodos is the futuristic Maglev bullet train. It cost $ 1.2 billion, is able to float on rails at a speed of up to 430 km / h, covering the 30 kilometers to the international airport in 7 minutes. But your final stop is 10 kilometers from the center, in the middle of nowhere. High costs prevented the work from advancing. A good old taxi is still more efficient. Shanghai is like this: first builds the future and then finds a use for it.


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