When Deng Xiaoping initiated market reforms in 1978, reopening the country and inviting the newest phase of foreign investment in Chinese cities, the structure and scale of these cities changed dramatically. Today, the governing process rewards the official who can most rapidly transform his or her city into guoji dadushi, a “great international city.”1 With an unprecedented release of capital,2 China has built more—more skyscrapers and high-rises, more housing and malls, more rail systems and highways—than any other country in a thirty-year period.3

In Shanghai, the traditional lilong (alleyway or lane) housing compounds are being replaced by new gated communities of luxury housing towers surrounded by landscaped parks or paved...

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