What makes a city great? I just got back from a week in New York and I just love the place. I love that I can go to a place like Russ & Daughters, a Jewish food shop, staffed by South Americans and a Sherpa (yes a real Sherpa) who speak some Yiddish. I love that I can go to a home-style Japanese restaurant where everyone outside of my immediate group appears to be Japanese or Japanese-American. I love that there are literally hundreds of museums and cultural institutions. I have a friend who has a friend who when he retired said that he would go to a different museum every day for five days out of the week for a year and he did. I love the fashion and the stores. I love that I walk just about everywhere, without ever getting bored. I love the parks and the buildings. I love the history. I love the humor. I even love the cockiness. New York is a great city.
London is a great city. Paris is a great city. Istanbul is a great city. This is just my own list of places that immediately spring to mind. What they all share is that three months is not nearly enough time to take them in.
Does Shanghai belong among the greats? I kept asking this as I read a truly great article on Shanghai’s development/history/architecture/urbanism, entitled, “Head of the Dragon: The Rise of New Shanghai.” The article is an excerpt from A History of Future Cities, a very soon to be released book by Daniel Brook. The article on Shanghai is quite long, but also quite fascinating and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in China history, architecture or urbanism.
So is Shanghai a great city? Maybe. Its sheer scale is amazing. The Bund is great. Xintiandi is special. The Shanghai Museum is world class. But is Shanghai truly a great world city and, if so, what makes it so, and if not, why not?
What do you think?