Are cities collections of problems that need to be solved or sites of innovation that offer opportunities? Are they best managed by top-down planning and policies or bottom-up entrepreneurialism? These themes and many more were the focus of the inaugural Princeton-Fung Global Forum, “The Future of the City,” held January 30–February 1 in Shanghai. The papers presented during the event were as diverse as its 48 speakers, a collection of international academics—20 from Princeton University—in architecture, engineering, ethics, history, meteorology, and other fields, as well as a handful of nonacademics. The multitude of voices did not offer a cohesive picture of the city, but attempted to present its variety through cross-disciplinary lenses.
William Fung, group chairman of the Hong Kong–based Li & Fung trading company and funder of the forum, opened the meeting. Then followed three days of 13 sessions with timely urban subjects, from “Home” to “Planning and Equity” to “Coastal Cities and Climate Change.” Many of the presentations were city-specific case studies. Janet Y. Chen, an assistant professor of history at Princeton, discussed hut dwellers in 20th-century Shanghai. Ariella Masboungi, from the French Ministry for Sustainability, shared a master plan for Grand Paris. Architects Rupali Gupte and Juan Du looked at microenvironments within megacities: the complex occupancy systems of Mumbai and the urban villages of Shenzhen, respectively. Other speakers reviewed broader urban patterns. Jiaotong University arts and humanities professor Daniel A. Bell discussed the change from nationalism to city affiliation, while Columbia University professor of sociology Saskia Sassen reviewed financing and the global city.