Modern like China

If it keeps growing, it could craft many novelties. But is it overbuilding, and who bears the cost?

It is hard to escape a sense of awe in Shanghai. On one side of the Huangpu River stand the elegant buildings that remind one of Paris from the Seine. On the other side rise the tall towers of Pudong, kissing the sky and lighting it up in considerable splendour at night. Of the cities of India, only Mumbai, especially its southern parts, can possibly achieve such grandeur, if squalor can somehow be kept away. With a centuries-long history, Delhi's character is more akin to Beijing's.

Located on the eastern side of the river, Pudong was a village, at best a small town, until 20 years back. A mini New York has now arisen. An adviser to the Shanghai government tells me that New York was indeed the source of the city's new imagination.

But does that make sense? When New York was rising in the late 19th century, it could have emulated London or Paris, the leading cities of the time. It chose not to. Looking at its own geographical specificities, it redefined what is meant to be a city. It kept going up tirelessly, imaginatively producing over time some of the most awe-inspiring urban architecture the world has ever seen. The city also bred a new cosmopolitanism that allows so many ethnicities in the world to call New York their home. Combining architectural grandeur and behavioural capaciousness is what New York is or came to be all about.

In terms of consciousness, New York will be a hard act to follow. The US is a migrant nation; its relationship with migrants is not always perfect, as the Wisconsin shootings make clear. But the US is fundamentally open to the idea of turning migrants into citizens. In principle, anyone can be American.

... contd.

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