Sunday, July 3, 2011

Shanghai, City of the Future

Shanghai Skyline
Last month, at the DDD Summit held in Portland, I had the opportunity to talk with one of the attendees who is now based in Shanghai. We talked about many things but mostly about the changing city of Shanghai. Shanghai is one of the most dynamic cities of the world these days. It's China's center for finance, commerce, and technology; and its ability to adapt itself has made it one of the world's top global centers. Starting out as a large third world city, on the scale of a Mexico City, Shanghai is moving rapidly in the direction of a London or New York.

Out for a Stroll
According this attendee, Shanghai's leaders studied the characteristics of successful global cities around the world (New York, London, and Hong Kong). Interestingly, they discovered that one quality all these cities shared was the percentage of foreign residents living there, around 20 percent.

A Vanishing Face of Shanghai
Moreover, it wasn't just the percentage of foreign residents that made a particular city successful, but rather the number of multiple nationalities that made a city thrive and be innovative. In other words, cities with one dominant nationality didn't do as well as cities with multiple nationalities. That's not surprising. Foreign residents not only bring money and investment capital, but they have fresh ideas for solving problems. 

So in order for Shanghai to become a successful global city itself, the Chinese central government instituted policies that encouraged more foreign residents, including favorable tax incentives and easy resident visas. It's a bold move on the part of the Chinese government, but bold moves separate the wheat from the chaff. It's no wonder China has been so successful within the last 20 years. It makes me think of the contrast between the United States of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the United States of today with its anti-immigration sentiment.

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