According to the United Nations, Shanghai is the eighth fastest-growing city in the world, adding 29.4 new residents each hour. The city lies at the intersection of global trading routes at the heart of the Yangtze river delta, one of world’s fastest growing regions. Its metropolitan region holds over 18 million inhabitants, a number increased mainly by rural Chinese migrants attracted by its economic potential and rampant construction activity.

Shanghai’s sustained and substantial economic growth (the current annual economic growth rate of 10% is projected to continue for at least another decade) has produced a landscape of dramatic vertical and horizontal expansion. The city’s public and private sectors are closely meshed, and it continues to build themed satellite towns and construct hundreds of new subway stations. The demand for residential space is fuelled by speculative development as well as residents’ needs; in 1985 the average dwelling size was 12 square metres – the size of a small car. It is now over 40 square metres; still small by most North American and European standards.

Shanghai’s economy is modernising as well as growing: approximately half of the labour force work in the service sector, while 36% are employed in industry – about three times the number in western global cities like London. Shanghai is also investing heavily in expanding its road capacity and public transport infrastructure. Currently a quarter of daily commuters use some form of public transport, with over half of Shanghai residents either walking or cycling to work. While an annual limit has been set on car sales, bicycles are targeted as an impediment to traffic flow, threatening this older and more sustainable form of transport.