Home to the world’s first adjacent grouping of three supertall skyscrapers, the Shanghai Pudong CBD is an undisputed global finance heavyweight.
A strategic trading port from ancient times, cosmopolitan Shanghai was the world’s fifth largest city by the early 1930s, but languished in relative isolation for decades, from the war years through the communist revolution.
The end of the 20th century saw China embracing a more market-driven approach, and a new financial district would play a major catalytic role in Shanghai’s dramatic change of fortune.
The birth of Pudong
At the dawn of the 1990s, a Special Economic Zone known as the Pudong New Area was designated in what had long been a sparsely populated backwater.
It proved the ideal location for largescale urban regeneration, encompassing an economic district that would eventually form a complementary zone to Shanghai’s old downtown.
Pudong’s western tip, reborn as the Lujiazui Finance and Trade Zone, stands across the Huangpu river facing the Bund, Shanghai’s traditional centre of international commerce, with its picturesque neo-classical facades lining the riverfront.
International design competitions brought the best the world could offer to Pudong, and futuristic buildings sprang up seemingly overnight, beginning with the Oriental Pearl Tower, followed by other landmarks, including the Huamu Civic Centre, Jin Mao Tower and the Bank of China Tower.
In 1997, the Shanghai Stock Exchange moved from the Bund to the custom-built Shanghai Securities Exchange Building in Pudong.
As the frenetic decade came to a close, a new masterplanned CBD stood resplendent with an ultra-modern urban form that was undergirded by ancient city-building philosophies.
The approach is best illustrated by the 100-metre wide Century Avenue, inspired by Paris’ Champs-Élysées while also functioning as the symbolic central axis as found in traditional Chinese planning for new city construction.
One end connects to west Shanghai through a tunnel, while the other culminates in the 346-acre Century Park, incorporating modern ideas of green public spaces offering high-quality urban living.
Top-notch infrastructure was simultaneously implemented, including large container ports, airports, new road systems, bridges, tunnels and metro line that connected Pudong to the older city centre, alongside upgraded telecommunications and energy systems.
Crucially, the financial centre was supported by trade-boosting initiatives such as nearby free trade, manufacturing and industrial zones, high-tech science parks and government incentives.
The grand plan paid off handsomely. Beginning from this period, Shanghai’s annual GDP grew by double-digits for more than 20 consecutive years, and its population rose to breach 20 million.
Settling into Success
In the 2000s, rigorous urban development blueprints spearheaded a period of comprehensive urban consolidation and expansion for both the CBD and the rest of Shanghai.
The cityscape continued to metamorphose swiftly; transport infrastructure, facilities for urban public use, conservation efforts and creative industry-led adaptive reuse projects grew exponentially alongside business infrastructure.
The supertall 494-metre Shanghai World Financial Center and the 632-metre Shanghai Tower joined the other behemoths on Century Avenue, creating the now-familiar skyline view of the Pudong CBD as seen from the Bund.
Shanghai’s diversification from manufacturing to an international service-focused economy reflects the concentration of multinational banks that moved into the Pudong CBD.
There are now more than 30 buildings over 25 storeys high, filled with commerce-focused businesses, including over 500 domestic and foreign financial and insurance corporations.
Most foreign-owned banks and their branches operating in China are registered in Shanghai, while assets of foreign banks in Shanghai account for nearly half of foreign banks’ total assets in China.
In 2018, Shanghai attracted US$17.3 billion worth of foreign investment, with foreign investors signing 5,597 projects, pledging a total contractual investment of US$46.94 billion.
The city added 45 regional headquarters of multinational corporations and 15 foreign-funded research and development centres.
A total of 128 foreign-invested manufacturing projects were launched in Shanghai last year, including Tesla’s construction of its Gigafactory, benefitting from new policy allowing foreign carmakers to locate wholly-owned subsidiaries in China.
Today, the “City by the Sea” has reclaimed her rightful place amongst the world’s richest. The city is the world’s biggest by population, has the top container port, is ranked sixth for wealthiest city, and consistently features among the top five financial centres globally.
Shanghai’s GDP, currently the largest in China at US$480 billion, is among the fastest growing compared to other world metropolises, and the McKinsey Global Institute projects that Shanghai will grow faster than every other city to leapfrog London to third richest metro in the world by 2025.