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June 28, 2014

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Prophetic urban plan from 1946 published as book

A 1946 urban master plan for Shanghai that made a host of accurate predictions about the city’s future, most notably its population boom, has been reproduced in book form.

“The Great Shanghai Plan” was created by the municipal government of the day as a guideline for the city’s reconstruction after World War II. It addressed typical problems such as a rapidly growing population, the huge influx of immigrants and outdated transport network.

Though never executed, the Shanghai Urban Planning and Design Research Institute yesterday published the work as a two-book set.

The plan is filled with far-sighted predictions, including elevated highways and a deepwater harbor for the city, a free-trade zone and even a light rail system.

But undoubtedly its most accurate prediction is that Shanghai’s population would grow from about 4 million in 1946 to 15 million in 1996.

“The forecast was almost spot on,” Zhang Yuxing, head of the institute, said yesterday.

“I’ve read the plan four times and found it packed with wisdom,” he said.

To cope with the population explosion, the document suggested the city government control density, move factories to the suburbs and reduce commuting distances.

The ideas behind the plan “mirror modern thinking in so many ways,” Zhang said.

“The grading of roads, improving people’s quality of life and establishing greenbelts around the city are all emphasized, and these are still popular ideas today,” he said.

The document, which drew from the 1944 London Plan and urban planning practices used in New York, is widely regarded as the first modern master plan for a Chinese city.

“Though the war had just ended, the plan imported the newest Western ideas and theories, such as organic decentralization, satellite cities, neighborhood units and regional planning,” said Tongji University Professor Zheng Shiling.

“Authorities in Shanghai recently began working on the 2040 master plan and I think the 1946 version would be an excellent reference,” he said.

Now almost 70 years old, the plan was drawn up by a committee of eight Chinese and foreign planners over a period of four years. Appropriately, its transformation into two editions also took four years to complete.

The two thread-bound books — one each in traditional and simplified Chinese characters — are available as a set for 960 yuan (US$154.32).


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