Getting the lay of the land (Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center)

On our first full day in Shanghai, we were all still a bit dazed from our trip, but got ourselves to the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center, which proved to be a fantastic way to orient ourselves to this massive city. 


Perhaps most impressive was the comprehensive model of Shanghai, which changed periodically to reflect the sprawl in day and night time. The sea of model buildings kept us captivated for some time, trying to guess which parts were accurate and which aspirational (it is a vision of Shanghai in 2020). What was most remarkable was that this “mini” model still took over the better part of the fifth floor of the museum, reinforcing Shanghai’s massive scale. For a group that had gotten in quite exhausted in the middle of night, being able to start our trip in earnest with a broader view of the enormous city we were in was quite valuable.

As we moved upstairs, we were able to learn more about the history of Shanghai’s development and the plans for its future, including a very serious emphasis on sustainability and environmental concerns. We learned a great deal about the pivot towards “Eco Shanghai” has prompted the development of extensive transit options, dramatically increasing in number along with the exploding population.


Another notable aspect of the museum was its extensive interactive features. In particular, the sustainability floor was filled with touchscreen stations where visitors could explore topics more in-depth and also take quizzes to test their knowledge on a variety of topics from road signage to environmentally friendly practices. Visitors could also ride a stationary bike or “drive” a boat out on the river. Visitors were also provided numerous opportunities to provide feedback, both to the museum and also regarding their thoughts on sustainable practices. These interactive features were a highlight for many, as they often seem to be lacking from museums we’ve been to previously in the US and elsewhere.


The museum was filled with a variety of sights and sounds, and left us all more prepared to explore and engage with the city around us. For those of us who are already interested in urban planning, it was an exciting playground to explore planning in the Shanghai context. But even for those without such a background, this museum really demonstrates the far-reaching power of planning. I couldn’t think of a better way to start our visit to Shanghai!

  • IMG_20160503_125416Emily Rusca

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