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Society & Culture

Cities Rise Higher but Life Quality Plummets

Feb 18, 2011

I used to seek solace in my hometown Yangzhou or other similarly serene cities whenever the frenzy of Shanghai got to me.

But there's no escape anymore. High-rise after high-rise, highway after highway are taking over my hometown, which used to be a low-rise oasis on the Grand Canal, a place for strolling and bicycling.

To be fair, my hometown Yangzhou, an ancient economic and cultural hub famous for the salt trade and classical gardens, has yet to reach the architectural heights of Shanghai and almost certainly never will.

But when I returned home early this month for the Spring Festival, I was dazed, if not dazzled, to see row upon row of identical high-rise apartments stretching to the horizon, and more and more cars crowding the roads that are continually being widened to accommodate the internal combustion engine.

Nature is being squeezed.

Yangzhou is far older than Shanghai, older by at least 2,000 years, but it's just as naive and clumsy as the old Paris of the East in rushing to embrace concrete forests and inhale auto emissions.

Yet Yangzhou does not represent the worst of the urban great leap forward. When I left Yangzhou for Shanghai on a fancy new bullet train – itself a byproduct of hasty urbanization – I was amazed to find that many other ancient cities along the line – Changzhou, Wuxi and Suzhou – are nearly as high as Shanghai.

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