Kuaile Gan’en Jie cong Shanghai! Happy Thanksgiving from Shanghai!
As many of you already know, “place” is a key part my personal fulfillment (and of course great places contribute critically to enhancing the triple bottom line!). Given that, this two-part blog post will outline ten characteristics of place for which I am thankful in recognition of Thanksgiving! The first five focus on the aspects of place I have come to relish here in Shanghai; the second set (to be posted next week) relay the built environment features about NYC that I’ve come to appreciate that much more as a result of living in Shanghai for the past two months.
Thanks, Shanghai, for these awesome placemaking features!
1. Street Food
While the number of street food venders has drastically declined over the past decade (especially since the Expo), as a Westerner, this dynamic aspect of place is still a serious delight! Food is a universal language (even when not all of it is recognizable!) that brings people together – a natural conversation starter, an equalizer. I am thankful that there are so many, distinct food venders in Shanghai and hope we can relay how critical they are to creating great places! Shanghai already got this right; let’s keep it that way!
2. Dancing in the Streets
Ok, so you can find this in NYC too, but only because so many Chinese immigrants have brought this wonderful tradition with them! As with food, dancing imbues places with life, and naturally attracts many spectators. I still haven’t joined one of the near-daily sessions…soon I hope! Sadly (for me), most people under 30 with whom I’ve spoken eschew this lovely tradition; it will be interesting to see how it evolves and whether it’s taken up by younger Chinese when they get older.
3. Narrow Streets
I love getting lost in the labyrinth-like alleys and narrow streets of old Shanghai. With every turn of the corner, you get deeper into a voyeuristic-like journey in which the most mundane, daily activities like cooking, doing the laundry, and washing the dishes transform into “anthropological” observations of traditional, communal life. While at first you feel like you’re invading residents’ privacy, inquisitive looks unequivocally transform into warm smiles welcoming you into their “living rooms.” These discovery walks are one of the most authentic experiences I’ve had in Shanghai!
Many of you know that I love food about as much as I love great places and walking. It should come as no surprise then, that the intersection between food and place make up two of the five things for which I’m thankful! Markets in Shanghai are so unbelievable interesting – spectacles in their own right. They boast so many varieties of produce, grains, and tofu that I’d never seen before (even though I frequented Chinatown quite a bit back in NYC!). A flurry of excitement comes over me every time I go to the market – and that sentiment seems to be shared by my fellow shop-goers. Food is a highly valued part of life here and that’s just wonderful! Sadly, food security (or lack there of) is threatening this joyous relationship…
It’s hard to fully capture this last one. Shanghai, and other large Chinese cities alike, are experiencing an ever-constant stream of change. Many of the alley ways I’ve been exploring may no longer exist in a years time. New developments spring up like weeds – shiny malls boasting the (fleeting) title of biggest commercial center in Shanghai seem to be a constant. This might seem like a negative – and in many ways it is. But what I’m thankful for is the fact that I’m in the midst of it. I’m experiencing this rapid change, this evolution (some good, some bad), first hand and perhaps in spite of it or because of it, I feel ever-empowered to impact this change, to shape it into a more sustainable transformation. Case in point: forty-five days ago I started a meetup group called Shanghai Walk & Talks. Today we have 85 members, half of which are Chinese! We’ve gone on four walks and counting. After every walk, they all genuinely thank me for bringing them together and giving them a new perspective on their city, its walkability (or lack thereof), and how their environment shapes them…”Pace” is on my side here and this is only the beginning!