Scale Model of the Future

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    BusinessWeek’s Pete Engardio tackles the topic of “Chindia,” the emerging forces of China and India as markets, workforces and world powers in his August 22, 2005 article, “A New World Economy.” As the author points out, “upheaval will test America's commitment to the global trade system, and shake its confidence. In the 19th century, Europe went through a similar trauma when it realized a new giant — the U.S. — had arrived.”

    I especially admire the opening paragraph, which describes a scale model you can see in Shanghai’s Urban Planning Exhibition Hall, which features a basketball court-sized model showing the entire metropolis as it will look — with “every skyscraper, house, lane, factory, dock, and patch of green space” — in the year 2020.

    There are white plastic showpiece towers designed by architects such as I.M. Pei and Sir Norman Foster. There are immense new industrial parks for autos and petrochemicals, along with new subway lines, airport runways, ribbons of expressway, and an elaborate riverfront development, site of the 2010 World Expo. Nine futuristic planned communities for 800,000 residents each, with generous parks, retail districts, man-made lakes, and nearby college campuses, rise in the suburbs. The message is clear. Shanghai already is looking well past its industrial age to its expected emergence as a global mecca of knowledge workers…

    Granted, this particular scale-model embraces the idea of state-mandated, top-down visioning. But if you believe in the adage, "If you can imagine it, you can build it," it surely offers exponentially more exciting prospects than anything coming out of US leadership right now. Where are the broad, well-funded initiatives to encourage math and science and make every kid electric with excitement about the future? (No, the right to teach intelligent design just doesn’t spark me.) Where are our big dreams to build and staff research centers dedicated to solving the major environmental and energy problems?

    Both China and India have huge obstacles on their ways to greatness, as the article points out. Shortsightedness doesn’t appear to be among them.

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