For this reason, during a government meeting last Tuesday, he called for the creation of a slow-paced life zone in central Shanghai, which would require carving out a big chunk of territory that runs from west on Jiangsu Road to east at the Bund, from north on Nanjing Road to south on Huaihai Road. In the envisioned zone, bike lanes would outnumber highways, and life would be laid-back. People commute on foot and by bike.
To be sure, that doesn't mean we should knock down the existing architecture to make way for an immense pedestrian mall. Neither can we turn the entire People's Square into a landfill. But it's always worth putting novel ideas to practice on a small scale, according to Li.
And what used to be unthinkable is now made possible by the advent of sophisticated technologies. Take garbage. As long as officials change their mindset that it is a stigma to have a landfill in front of government buildings, the maturing of relevant technology is just a matter of time, Li said.
His confidence is strengthened by technological breakthroughs in cloud computing and the "Internet of things," which could improve the efficiency of regulating trash disposal and rainwater gathering and sanitation.
Nonetheless, what matters most is urban planners' attitudinal change. Many of China's cities are groaning under over-urbanization. By contrast, in Western cities like New York, urbanization has gone into reverse, a process whereby the haves live on cities' fringes and commute by car or public transport everyday. As a result, the population pressure in central cities is eased.
"We hope Shanghai can skip this stage and reach the next phase of urbanization, which incorporates unit city at its core," said Wang.