Urban Land Institute Australia Shanghai Study Tour and Asia Pacific Conference – The Shanghai Bubble
Written by Leo Mewing
An unhurried walk through tree-lined boulevards. Perusing high-end goods at any of an abundant number of sophisticated shopping centres. Dinner on the rooftop of a riverside heritage building. Bar hopping along trendy suburban streets. Moving across the city on a clean and modern metro.
Clusters of identical nondescript apartment buildings. Elevated freeways as far as the eye can see. Street markets selling live seafood and somewhat live animals. Smog, smell, pollution.
Shanghai is a city of emotive tension. It generates constant moments of pleasure; in tandem with an unashamed bewilderment that such a massive and urbanised city can deliver such things. It can be intimate in its sense of place; despite the scale of buildings and infrastructure. It can be unhurried; amongst the daily movement of more than 26 million people. It is stimulating; it is captivating.
Once you are in the Shanghai Bubble, it is hard to take yourself, or your mind, away from it.
With 26 million people in its boundaries, Shanghai is currently the largest city in the world. Its metropolitan region has 34 million people, and it is the centre of the Yangtze River Delta City Cluster which captures 135 million people across 26 cities. Shanghai has the population of Australia within the spatial extent of Perth; the YRD City Cluster has 5.5 times the Australian population in an area similar to SEQ. There is no Australian parallel to the scale and density of the Shanghai population.
The challenge for the Chinese planning and development authorities and for the Chinese property industry, is how to effectively manage this population and to maintain economic growth, whilst ensuring that Shanghai maintains a liveability and attraction, for locals, visitors and investors.
Observations within this context are as follows.
· There is a strong amount of pride in Shanghai, from both local and expats. Such a pride results in people caring about the urban environment that exists, that is created, and that is maintained.
· There is a strong vision for what Shanghai will be and how it will get there, as documented by the Shanghai Master Plan 2017-2035, and its predecessor plans. It proudly announces that:
Shanghai will be an excellent global city and a modern socialist metropolis with world influence.
(Imagine such a simple and evocative planning vision for Australians cities – and having the cultural fervour to unashamedly deliver it!)
· Delivering upon this vision, through provision of infrastructure and management of land use outcomes is undoubtedly simpler with a single party government. The permeation of this into planning process is the absence of public notification for development applications, and the absence of true dispute resolution. Government holds all of the bargaining position. I am not suggesting that this is the best approach, or even a positive approach, but it does assist delivery.
· The creation of a sense of community, within particular parts of the city, is strongly apparent. The sense of community is achieved through a high level of home ownership (approximately 90% across China, with Shanghai at a similar level), community-based recreation facilities (dance classes in a square, squat machines on the street), discrete and community-focussed local retail centres for day to day amenities (in comparison to the glitzy high end shopping areas), and stopping the metro at 10pm whilst those local amenities remain open much later (effectively encouraging people to return to recreate in their local community). Social engineering also helps.
· The City doesn’t overwhelm; it doesn’t feel too intense. Whilst it engages, it excites the senses, and clearly has a weight of population that allows a high economic spend, there are few occasions that it feels chocked by people. There appear to be a few reasons for this, as follows.
o The streets provide a surprising intimacy of scale, given the density of the city. This appears to be achieved through a strong street tree planting policy, consideration to how buildings meet the ground whether with podium retail or landscape settings, and a reasonable degree of activity. One is less inclined to notice the scale and density of the buildings (or their monotony), when one feels engaged and relaxed at the ground plane.
o The City can move people effectively. There are currently 13 Metro lines, and there are four more under construction. That level of infrastructure spend and delivery is inconceivable in Australia – yet is happening across not just Shanghai, but all of China. Quality, accessible, efficient mass transit is critical to a City’s effective functioning.
o Shanghai is also flat. Very flat. Whilst cycling isn’t as evident as may be anticipated, the city is eminently walkable, and the population takes advantage of that walkability.
o Through a combination of public transport and active transport, the movement of everyday people is efficient, thereby reducing the general sense of urban congestion.
o The movement of people within the region is also fantastic. High speed rail, air and shipping have all been subject of strong investment. Further, the highway network has increased by 60% between 2013 to 2017.
o A lesser observed element is that of daily logistics. In Australia we will regularly see trucks throughout our inner city street, congesting loading zones and roads. In Shanghai, you will rarely see this. The City has programmed its logistics to provide for the majority of servicing in the evenings – reducing traffic congestion and providing an improved streetscape amenity throughout the daytime.
· A conclusion to be drawn from this is that density and urban intensity need not be a disaster, where the ground plane is successful, and where the population is able to move efficiently.
· However, the urban environment of Shanghai is not convincing in its entirety, and there are certainly observations from Shanghai that reinforce what we do well (or aim to) in Australia.
o Some of the contemporary design in Shanghai pursues a boldness and a headline that forgets its context and that it should be a place for people. The modern business district at Pudong provides an impressive skyline, but a less impressive public realm. By contrast, most Australian cities ground our contemporary buildings very well.
o The headline statements through architecture are a consequence of an apparent Chinese desire to express wealth and power (this is not a modern phenomenon, nor one limited to China). Using design and planning to reinforce wealth and power does not provide a learning for an inclusive Australian built form environment and society.
o The urbanised environment, whilst providing vegetation throughout, has limited places to truly recreate – to kick a ball or let the kids run around. Whilst there are some learnings from Shanghai about how to deliver urban density, the absence of large areas of accessible greenspace is one that Australia delivers substantially better.
o Ecology is not a factor. Shanghai has a deteriorating regional ecosystem resulting in reduced water quality and reduced accessible amenity (local talked about the Shanghai bubble of working and partying, without ability to engage with the natural environment).
· Amongst all of the above observations, two truly fascinating learnings from the ULI Asia Pacific Summit are as follows.
1. There is a broad consensus that Shanghai is underperforming from where it could otherwise be. The Yangtze River Delta City Cluster has less major companies headquartered than in the Greater Bay City Cluster and Beijing City Cluster. It generates less GDP than the Greater Bay City Cluster and Beijing City Cluster.
Why is this? It is suggested that it is not currently well coordinated as an economic cluster – with the clustered cities still competing with each other, rather than functioning collectively. When the cities are better integrated, Shanghai believes its productivity and economic output will substantially improve – beyond its ranking as 5th in the Global Financial Centres Index, third ranking in volume as a Stock Exchange, and the worlds busiest trading port.
One City; One Solution. One City; One Policy.
There are learnings for Australia in the City Cluster approach – working together for the greater good, rather than a constant competitiveness for the same investment. Rather than homogenous cities (an internal criticism also of the YRD cities), applying each city’s individual strengths to create a collective powerhouse. Overcome obstacles to create advantages
2. Shanghai could increase its density further, to be a more productive city. There were multiple observations at the ULI Asia Pacific Summit that parts of Shanghai are underdeveloped (despite being apparently dense to many people), and if developed further, would generate further economic productivity, and improve functionality (i.e. of metro movement).
It is impressive to consider that a city of 26 million people could become more dense.
Given that local governments do not issue rates, and instead make their money through land sales and redevelopment, the cynical observation of an ongoing pursuit of redevelopment and is to allow local governments to maintain their budgets. In an environment that is constantly and progressively redeveloping, two storey houses become four storey apartments become 40 storey towers – what is next for this urban transformation?
Overall, Shanghai has a long-established vision for greatness, and has a governance to be able to deliver it. It is a City that will unashamedly pursue growth to take a place as one of the world’s dominant cities, but will need to continue its traditional practices of creating good places for people. Real estate is a key pillar of the economy – and will continue to be for the Shanghai Bubble.
ULI Sydney City Forum: The Australian Dream? Insights on the Australian Residential Market
Written by Lauren Bensadoun
ULI Sydney’s April City Forum took place on 10 April, sponsored by Aqualand, and focused on the Australian Residential Market. The Australian market is currently suffering from an over-supply of dwellings available which is causing weakened sales and dropping house values. Ben Hendriks of Mecone kicked off the evening with an insightful presentation and gave the opinion that there is a long-standing issue with housing supply in Sydney; The supply cycle is for long periods of under-supply intersected by short periods of over-supply.
The first factor that needs addressing is how the price to income ratio is making housing virtually unaffordable, especially to those who have yet to enter the market. Sydney is said to be the world’s second least affordable market after Hong Kong, although there are still large areas with relative affordability. However, this affordability comes with trade-offs such as longer commutes, less access to amenities and services (such as education and health services), amongst others. Interestingly, the areas that are suffering the most are those that are predominantly investor led while the areas that typically provide larger housing types or are owner occupied are holding up better than expected. Understanding that there are multiple sub-markets operating throughout Sydney, the question needs to be asked: Is there a disconnect between planning and housing markets? Sydney is a large, international city and should then be planned as such. Presently, most of the focus has been revolved around supply, but what exactly is causing the over-supply? An important discussion needs to be had around housing diversity and better transportation networks.
Sydney must diversify its housing market to accommodate for: Renters, students, seniors, families…etc. The diversity is also necessary as the market is continuously changing. Over the past 10 years there has been a major decline in the household occupancy rate from 4.5 to 2.6 people per household.
Furthermore, Sydney has done a poor job planning for the increased population growth in terms of the transportation networks. In 1981, London and Sydney had forecasted the same population for 2034, yet our transportation networks do not compare to that of London’s or most other international cities around the world. This is affecting the livability of Sydney and is ultimately contributing to the current over-supply in the market.
The evening then continued with a Panel discussion from Ben Hendriks of Mecone, Esther Cheong of AEC Group, Lisa Chilkarovski of Chikarovski & Associates and Daniel Khong of Capella Capital. Some key takeaways from this discussion are outlined below
· When looking at the data presented by Ben, it would be valuable to overlay the demographics in this data. There is a large number of Sydney residents that are retiring and leaving the city to get away from the business. Retirees are more interested in agricultural pursuits, saving money and having more land
· The younger demographics will move to places with more employment opportunities. The average person will commute up to 1.5hrs to get to work – but no more than that.
· It is imperative that we deal with “construction fatigue”, meaning project owners must make it a top priority to minimize the impacts on the community during construction projects.
· The “30-minute city” is not likely a reality for Sydney. Unfortunately, the city is far too behind in infrastructure and is in a constant state of catching-up. In order to become a “30-minute city” The government must be far more future-focused, rather than simply waiting until a problem arises.
· Diversifying the housing market in Sydney is key to future success. Currently, the market is heavily run by investor stock.
· From FOMO (Fear of missing out) to FONGO (Fear of not getting out). When the market is high, the public has a FOMO-type reaction. Fear of not getting into the “booming” housing market. However, in this current down-turn, FONGO is taking over as people are worried about not getting out fast enough. The media is hugely responsible for this and is causing a massive selling-frenzy by dramatizing the current down-turn in the market
The evening was insightful, and the conversations had both breadth and depth. The “Australian Dream” of owning a large house on a ¼ acre lot is not what is desired by the new generation. People are willing to give up bigger houses and land in exchange for a city that is liveable in today’s day and age. This means housing diversity, better transportation networks, and better communities. People will trade space for time. Furthermore, with regards to the current down-turn in the market, it is simply apart of an expected economic cycle. Economists are confident that the next “pendulum swing” will happen in the next 2-4 years where the market will be back in an under-supply. There is potential for investors to have massive returns if they can hold their nerve, not give into the FONGO, and hold onto their investments until this next pendulum-swing in the economic cycle occurs.
2019 ULI Australia Young Leader Scholarship
Each year the leadership of ULI Australia recognises the significant contribution of a ULI Australia Young Leaders Group member. The ULI Australia Young Leader Scholarship recognises this contribution by awarding the 2019 ULI Australia Scholarship winner with attendance at the ULI Asia Pacific Summit and Young Leaders Group Study Tour in Shanghai.
This year’s scholarship winner is Leo Mewing, a very active member on ULI Brisbane’s District Council.
Leo Mewing is an experienced town planner, and Director of Mewing Planning Consultants. Since commencing his professional planning career, Leo has accumulated extensive planning experience in both Queensland and internationally. Leo‘s key areas of expertise and interest are in preparing and managing development applications and in strategic land use planning, in both urban and rural settings. Leo is also a current expert witness in the Planning and Environment Court.
Leo has had a lead role in the preparation of various planning schemes, local plans and strategic planning documents for local government throughout Queensland. Leo has also enjoyed working on many major development projects throughout Queensland, including recent project experience extending to mixed-use, commercial, retail, entertainment, urban infill residential, greenfield residential, industrial and community developments.
Congratulations Leo, we look forward to seeing you in Shanghai!