On Friday night, a Chinese friend and I attended a lecture presented by the Shanghai Studies Symposium, NYU Shanghai and the excellent Rockbund Art Museum, titled "All Tomorrow's Parties, Episode 2: Shanghai Futurism," and we were both left utterly confused and disappointed. We were looking forward to a discussion on such provocative questions as: How do others envision the future of Shanghai? What new technologies will we see and how will people use the technology of today? How will the city of Shanghai work on the societal level; will we see the (re)emergence of distinctive micro-neighborhoods? Would these neighborhoods have their own competitive grass-roots creative houses and participate in augmented reality work and play? Or will neighborhoods become their own micro-Shanghai city within segregated, exclusive developments?
These questions were not answered. In fact, they weren't even asked! How can you even begin to think about a "Shanghai Futurism" without thinking of some of these possibilities? Sure, you can look to the past as UC Irvine Professor Wasserstrom and Urbanatomy editor Nick Land did with research on films shot in Shanghai, past expositions and graphic design and then follow this with an obtuse rambling on time spirals and the Art Deco movement but I failed to see why this matters for the future of Shanghai; as the city has weathered quite a few epic events in the last century alone I would then be worried for its future if I only looked at the past! But you don't need an advanced degree or a university think tank to ask these questions. I'm sure that you, dear readers, have many of the same questions or even more creative ones!
You see, I have a particular vested interest in this topic of Shanghai Futurism. I work in the designing of the future of Shanghai (and other cities in China). Many others do the same, some more spontaneously, which I often envy, because the work that I do is methodically designed, carefully considered and planned so that one day the general public can enjoy a space that is flexible and comfortable enough for those creative ambitions to spontaneously develop, or be influential enough to do the same in a physical place that is an urban park, a streetscape or a commercial plaza. It is often wished by those of us in our field who care strongly about the academic issues of spatial studies, wayfinding and communal-societal needs, that only if we could have an audience who cares as strongly as us to make the places we live and work more comfortable using innovative solutions that address these academic issues. This is not a wish for a particular kind of aesthetic (which is a means to an end; it should never be considered a desire in of itself), nor a flexing of the mind of the egotistical designer (we all are egotistical as a designers; it is inherent to a certain extent), but rather it is a wish that stems from the definition that design is essentially problem-solving, whether it addresses a problematic design of the past or it fills a hole that was not there before because it is something completely new and unseen and is needed by the public. These academic issues I mention are all possible to be solved, or be developed with more reasonable intent, in a future. A future, or futures, that I am hopeful will be better than the past.
Thus, it is very much my desire to experience how others predict what life and work will be like in Shanghai just over the horizon of tomorrow. I write this open letter to those who have a vision to share on our city, whether you are Shanghainese, Chinese or Expat, and not merely to relate how things once were and that's how things might be in the future. What are your dreams of tomorrow? How would you hope to live in your city of the future?
Writer of Landline Blog, and Landscape Designer in Shanghai, China
"上海未来主义"让我期待的是关于上海未来发展的一些真知灼见，特别是加州大学欧文分校教授兼上海研究专家Jeff Wasserstrom的讲授。在Jeff二十多分钟的演讲中，结合生动而多角度的照片，对比展示了上海的昨天和今天，论及了杂志封面的变化，交通方式的变化和好莱坞上海取景的流行化等，却甚少对于上海明天的畅想和讨论。Jeff认为上海将是未来之城，因为其多元的文化特色。另一位发表演讲的是《精彩上海》编辑Nick Land博士。Nick给我上了深奥的关于时间螺旋和art deco的一课。时间是连续向前的，而art deco在上海的实践表明了上海的现代化。在之后的讨论中，二人论及了上海和北京的区别，上海快速发展的原因和时机等，但是也没有更多的论及上海的未来发展，和上海将如何在国际舞台上扮演未来之城的角色，颇有些遗憾。上海的未来会有哪些可能性，会是怎样的发展路径，希望听到更多的探讨和论述。