Between 1842 and 1943 Shanghai was a unique urban entity; it was divided into three separate jurisdictions: an International Settlement, a French Concession, and the rest of the city, which was governed by the Chinese. The city’s social tone and business ethos was set by the International Settlement, principally ruled by British businessmen via a Municipal Council. This self-governing enclave managed to turn a Treaty Port, one of several along China’s coast in the 19th century, into the country’s most important conduit for international trade, and one of the world’s richest and largest cities.

This research investigates the possibility of establishing a network of global cities that, taking colonial-era Shanghai as their model, would have more in common with each other than their hinterlands. Colonial cities in Asia have successfully made the segue from imperial entrepots to global cities in their own right, particularly places like Singapore and Hong Kong. Shanghai’s post-war history of isolation hindered that city’s growth and development, at least until the establishment of the Pudong Special Economic Zone in 1990, since which time the city has rapidly begun to re-emerge onto the world stage once again.

In an increasingly globalised world, any attempt to recover the discipline of urbanism under conditions of urban transformation and economic crises is going to require bold and imaginative new thinking. Think how much faster cities in a closely linked global network would be able to react under conditions of global crisis. Freed from having to move at the slower pace of their geographical hinterlands these nodes in the global network could well be fast enough to staunch or even head off a downward spiral before it degenerated into recession. (Faster reaction time will not guarantee the prevention of future crises, but this system could well diminish their magnitude and misery.) In many ways what this research is hoping to propose is not unlike the Hanseatic League which existed in Europe in the late Middle Ages. A practical union of cities which engendered economic growth through mutual support for a hitherto poor and unconnected part of the globe. This could, in turn, be applied to the global scale for the 21st century, and taking Shanghai’s unique status during the colonial-era may well be a useful point of departure.

The Newsletter articles



Bracken, G. (2009), Singapore: A Walking Tour (third edition). Singapore: Marshall Cavendish.

Bracken, G. (2010), Angkor: Sketches of an Ancient City. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish.

Bracken, G. & Bruyns, G. (2010), Research & Design Catalogue, Urban Asymmetries Program, MSc2 – Studio Singapore. Delft: Delft School of Design.

Articles in journals:

Bracken, G. (2009), ‘The Shanghai Model’, IIAS Newsletter 52, pp. 4-5.

Conference papers:

Bracken, G. (2009). ‘The Shanghai Model: A New Hanseatic League’, paper presented at the International Forum on Urbanism, Technical University of Delft, the Netherlands, 26 November 2009.