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The western bank of the Huangpu River in Shanghai is home to some of the most beloved neighbourhoods in China, from the Bund to the French Concession. But, until recently, the eastern bank was less iconic. When Richard Mullane, a principal at the international architecture and design studio Hassell, toured the area in 2016, he saw decaying industrial buildings and vacant lots. How, he wondered, might one turn such a sprawling brownfield site into a landmark worthy of its neighbour?

The plan that Mullane and his team have devised involves trees — lots of them. More specifically, it calls for removing the area’s concrete, capping any contaminated areas with landform and then planting some two million specimens, effectively creating a forest in the heart of the metropolis. When it comes to climate mitigation, trees are among the most sophisticated technologies going, converting carbon dioxide into oxygen, releasing water vapour (thereby cooling the surrounding landscape) and purifying air (a major advantage in a city that has seen deadly clouds of smog). As envisioned by Hassell, the soil in

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