Urban growth in Shanghai is closely linked with its recent soar as a global city, the economic capital and most populated city in China. Shanghai urban population accounted in 2015 for 21,4 millions inhabitants – for a total 24 millions inhabitants –, to be compared with the 13,1 millions inhabitants present by 2000. Population growth surged between 2000 and 2010, reaching a annual rate of + 3,3 %. Migrant population, as a result, accounts for about 40 % of the registered population. Built-up area in Shanghai municipality occupies a mere 2 100 km2 in the municipal territory (6,340 km2). The city centre itself covers 290 km2, while the urban core, that partly encompasses peripheral districts (jiaoqu), covers 1,500 km2. Rural landscapes are meanwhile still dominant in outer peripheries, laying in an array of 30 to 70 km of the city centre.
Urban sprawl occurred since 30 years in two stages. Starting from 1990, Pudong planned area developed eastward of Puxi’s city centre, as a mix of residential districts and “economic and technologic development zones”. The new district symbolizes Shanghai’s economic power, with Lujiazui financial centre, Pudong international airport and Waigaoqiao Free-Trade Zone.
Urban extension toward the peripheries accelerated sharply in the 2000s, under the Xth five-year plan (2001-2005) and its followers. Authorities envisioned a polycentric metropolis and settled a number of new town projects, along with the densification of suburban districts. Songjiang, the biggest new town, at 40 km away from the city centre, is planned to welcome 2 millions inhabitants by 2020. Land conversion totalized 1,000 km2 in the last 15 years.
Nowadays, a dense transportation network, combining highways and 14 subway lines, connects urban area as a whole. Population densities range from 20,000 inh./ km2 in the city centre to 7,000 inh./ km2 in the suburbs and 2,000 in the outer fringes, where small towns and industrial zones mix closely with farmland and rural settlements. At regional scale, Shanghai tends to form a urban corridor with Kunshan and Suzhou, millionary cities located north-west of the municipality. They are more largerly part of the Yangzi Delta mega-urban region, said to gather more than 100 millions inhabitants on about 100,000 km2.