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Date Posted: 20:39 22/11/2004

Shanghai to reduce population by half a million in six years

...but there will still be nine million in the city centre.

IT ISN'T just rural people who have to worry about relocation. As Shanghai proceeds with its 'greenification' campaign, in line with its commitments to the World Expo and the desire - endlessly repeated - to become a leading financial centre and international city within two decades or so, and as it continues to destroy old buildings and replace them with parks, it has now set a target to relocate 500,000 people from the city centre before 2010.

What measures will be used to perform such a gargantuan task? The experts cited at the CityTrans conference held in Shanghai last week do not go into specific details, but one expects the same sort of clearances that have taken place in Pudong, around Suzhou Creek, or in any of the countless rows of tenement slums destroyed by the wrecking ball in the past ten years and replaced with newer, cleaner facilities now heaving with several dozen 24-hour convenience stores.

Again, for the poor of Shanghai and the poor of Pubugou, the issue is one of compensation. We know of many being forced to up sticks for pitiful amounts of money because the government has given permission to some contractor to demolish housing blocks and replace them with luxury villas or plush office blocks. And the tactics are, on occasion, nothing short of underhand. We also know incidents of intimidation and violence against those who refuse to move and try to hold out for fairer payments. Ah, the early growth of capitalism 'twas ever thus.

Still, while the half million seems significant, it needs to be put into context. 9.5 million people officially live in the city proper, a massive amount, and the slight reduction in density will not make the place any more habitable. At rush hour, the People's Square subway station will still resemble a stampede into a bunker on the eve of the apocalypse, and frustrated commuters will still get into ineffectual punch-ups at taxi stops on the People's Avenue. Big events like National Day will continue to see vast and fearful swathes of bodies sweep down the city's major thorough-passes, and quaint notions such as personal space and freedom of movement will remain seriously curtailed any time before 3 in the morning.

Millions are still flooding into the city, encouraged by the government and lured by the lights and the prospects of making money out of prostitution or begging scams. The wage gap between the city and the countryside will ensure that the flow continues well into the next decade. Even if the official population falls, the unofficial one will continue to skyrocket.

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