Arts of Re-Animation

There’s always something huge happening in Shanghai — and usually several things. Out at the leading edge over the last two years has been the tsunami of urban development along the Huangpu waterfront to the south of the Puxi metropolitan core, in an area that has been named ‘Xuhui Riverside’ or ‘West Bund’. The scale of what is underway there is (of course) utterly stunning.

A mixture of new residential complexes and prestige towers is under construction, and the immediate waterfront has already been redeveloped into a strip of interconnected parks and boardwalks (constituting the 8.4km ‘Shanghai Corniche‘). Along the river, a neo-modern aesthetic prevails, characterized by elegantly re-purposed heavy industrial structures: slabs of concrete, disused rail tracks, and massive cargo cranes. As elsewhere in the city, the heavy-duty Shanghai 1.0 has been playfully folded over itself, in a stylish celebration of modernist heritage. The future is presented as a re-launch of the past. For anybody mesmerized by time-spirals, it’s irresistible.

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The Great Convergence

Every great philosopher has a single thought, Martin Heidegger asserted. However questionable this claim might be, it applies without qualification to Mou Zongsan, China’s greatest modern philosopher (and perhaps also the world’s).

While the breadth of Mou’s scholarship is intimidating, it was made possible only by conformity to a methodical life-long study schedule, organized by a single idea. His one thought, which he translated into the language of Western Philosophy as ‘intellectual intuition’ (νοῦς, intellektuelle Anschauung), integrates not only his own thinking, but also — he consistently maintains — the entire Chinese philosophical tradition, of which it is the cap-stone, or guiding thread. Each of China’s three teachings (三教), Confucian, Daoist, and Buddhist, tends to a principle of intellectual intuition in which it finds consummation as a “perfect teaching” and through which it adheres by inner necessity (rather than extrinsic cultural and historical accident) to the integral Chinese canon.

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Short Changed

Cities have been grounded, observes Robin Hanson in a down-to-earth post on the subject. Given strong evidence of increasing returns to vertical development, up to 20-stories in Shanghai (and 40 in Hong Kong), it is immediately obvious that the world’s major metropolises are far more tightly earth-bound than direct economic calculation would predict. Super-tall construction is challenging, but high-rise building to a moderate altitude is not being inhibited by any easily-identified economic or technical factors.

After running through an impressive range of possible explanation for urban stunting, Hanson reaches the conclusion:

City density, and hence city size, is mainly limited by the abilities of the conflicting elements that influence local governments to coordinate to enable taller buildings. […] Remember those futurist images of dense tall cities scraping the skies? The engineers have done their job to make it possible. It is politics that isn’t yet up to the task.