Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-7635

Article | Open Access

Searching for Reconnection: Environmental Challenges and Course Changes in Spatial Development Along Shanghai’s Shipping Channels

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Abstract:  Waterways played a crucial role in the emergence of Shanghai as a cosmopolitan city and world port. Over the years the spatial and functional relationships between the city and ports and hinterland have been changing continuously. In Shanghai, like other port cities, almost all ports and related industries are placed out beyond the urban fringes, to form decentralized regional clusters, while former docklands are quickly transformed into attractive urban waterfronts. Simultaneously there is a growing physical and socio-economic gap with the rural hinterland. During Shanghai’s brutal lockdown in Spring 2022, due to China’s rigid zero-Covid policy, citizens were without food and other supplies while fully loaded ships were lined up waiting in the port. Also, deliveries from surrounding rural areas were temporarily halted. This article focuses on recent developments but is based on experiences in previous centuries from a long durée perspective. It elaborates on how the Yangtze River Delta urbanized along shipping channels and examines changing relationships between city and port, between urban and rural, and between man and nature. What role did shipping channels play and how to rebalance various spatial claims: urban, rural, port interests, and environmental concerns?

Keywords:  ecological civilization; flood risk; hydraulic engineering; lockdown; long durée; port city; rural hinterland; shipping channel; spatial decentralization; urban delta



© Harry den Hartog. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.