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The capital of the future: Shanghai

Joe Berridge’s recent opinion piece in the Globe and Mail makes the case for why Shanghai is destined to become “the capital of future.” Brash city building, massive scale, and entrepreneurial hustle are among some of the reasons why he believes the city is on a path to global supremacy. And similar to other great capitals, it has benefited from a strategic geographic position on an important waterway — in this case the Yangtze River.

By way of comparison, Toronto is said to be the fastest growing urban region in both North America and Europe right now. We add somewhere around 125,000 people each year. Shanghai, on the other hand, is adding between 700,000 and 800,000 people each year — much of it from internal migration. The city currently has a population of around 24 million people and it is expected to grow to somewhere between 35 and 45 million people by 2050. (Figures from the Globe.)

Notwithstanding all of our successes as a global city region, as I was reading Berridge’s piece I couldn’t help but come back to this comparison. Shanghai opened its first subway line in 1993. Today it has one of the most extensive networks in the world; whereas, it would probably take Toronto this long to figure out if that first line should be light rail or a below-grade subway. And we haven’t even gotten to the number of stops yet.

But that’s one of the differences between top-down and bottom-up city building: speed.

Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash


  1. Douglas Pollard

    At my last job we hosted and/or visited builders and developers from many countries.(this included visiting Shanghai as it happens). The Chinese simply could not understand why we were so slow to plan/approve/build and they would wave at a field and tell us that in a year there would be dozens of towers standing there. Somewhere in between “our” painful but thorough process and their full speed ahead, damn the torpedoes approach lies the correct balance I think.


  2. Tarek Essam

    Yes they have impressive economy, glitzy buildings and exploding population growth, but what is their contribution to culture, literature, art, and all what it takes to create a real world capital like Rome, London and NYC during their glory days…Nada! I enjoyed your Toronto bashing though, you are finally seeing the truth about how mediocre this city is.


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