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Tuesday, May 18, 2021

To Make Room for Buildings in the Sky, Shanghai Cut into the Water

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BEIJING — It is snowing, and the rivers are flowing, all the way up to the sheer cliffs of coastal Shanghai, a city as famous for its buildings as for its spectacular skyscrapers.

But there is not enough to go around — not enough for the city’s residents, not enough for the airplanes carrying them all. There is no space to build on, no permanent waterfront to sit on, nor a concrete skyline to admire. So Shanghai hasn’t turned into a city of beaches — or even a place where people go for a summer day out.

Residents of China’s most dynamic city now say they are having to share the water, not to mention the land.

Last week, the city of 200 million people made what it called a dramatic move: They cleared a large swathe of what used to be mountainside and pushed it into the sea. “To restore the natural flow of Huangpu,” a government website read.

Zhang Shiquan stands behind the makeshift beach at Huangpu Beach in Shanghai. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

It is easy to see why Shanghai wanted to do this: The Huangpu River had been running dry. “Over years and years and years, the river had desiccated,” Shan Xiaoran, president of Shanghai Fisheries Department said as he stood on a temporary sand dune at the foot of the slopes.

The project cost billions of dollars, and it didn’t endear the city to environmentalists: It was vastly expensive, and it had forced almost 10,000 people to move their homes. Local officials are cagey about who exactly was displaced; those from the Lower City District, for example, have been joined by others from just over the high-altitude mountains from Shanghai’s southern edge.

The environmental aftermath has been heartbreaking. Ms. Zhang took time to stand beside a temporary beach just off the banks of the Huangpu. She was missing her sons and husband, who are gone, she said, because they were away working, far away. She told her story quietly, in this wintry morning, at a fixed footbridge. For her, anyway, this was paradise.

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