China adds more parks to its cities to improve quality of life

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SHANGHAI – Suzhou Creek has been nothing more than an open sewer for decades as its murky waters flowed through the heart of Shanghai. It is now teeming with life on 26 miles of green shores.

Runners run along burgundy paths lined with azaleas, wisteria and osmanthus. Fishermen catch carp weighing up to 11 kilograms. Children jump rope, while elderly couples relax on benches on the waterfront.

“Before, we couldn’t even get to the Suzhou Creek because the water smelled and was black,” said Zhang Guanghe, a 79-year-old retired fertilizer plant foreman, as construction crews were planting more trees along the water.

The Suzhou Creek restoration is part of a nationwide park-building program across China offering an escape from concrete jungle which have long been typical of many large Chinese cities.

it urban planning for the next stage of development, when China becomes an industrialized and wealthy country. An increasingly educated population is demanding not only higher wages, but also an improvement in the quality of life.

“Building parks is very much like fighting pollution – although it looks like a losing proposition, it is nevertheless beneficial to society,” said Liu Jing, professor of accounting and finance at the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business in Beijing.

Parks offer an easy, though not cheap, way to meet some of these public needs. As with other municipal programs in China, officials can quickly move entire neighborhoods to make room for green spaces, even when residents are unhappy.

China has nearly quintupled the area of ​​public green space in its cities since 2001, according to the Ministry of Housing, Urban and Rural Development.

The construction of the park became very important during the period pandemic… Many people are wary of restaurants, cinemas, and other enclosed spaces.

Suzhou, known for its ancient canals, has opened 20 new parks over the past year. Kaifeng, the former capital of the empire, built 28 houses.

Shanghai opened 55 parks last year, bringing the total to 406. This metropolis, one of the largest in the world, has announced plans to build nearly 600 more parks in the city over the next five years.

“I see a lot more trees and flowers than I used to – this is changing the structure of cities,” said Wang Min, a professor at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing who was the design director for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The average Chinese city now rivals New York in terms of the amount of public green space per person. New York has long been the leader among the most populous American cities in park construction thanks to creation of the Central Park, Prospect Park as well as Pelham Bay Park in the 19th century.

However, this comparison is not entirely fair. American cities not only have parks but also many private lawns. There are very few lawns in Chinese cities because municipal zoning rules usually prohibit them, like most single-family homes. Instead, the country’s rules favor chess-like layouts of high-rise apartment buildings and lush landscaped parks.

Ten-year-old Zhong Yulin lives in a multi-storey building near the Suzhou Creek. She now walks almost every day to jump rope in the new playground next to the stream.

“Before, I stayed at home and didn’t go out,” she said. “I would watch TV.”

China’s latest five-year plan, approved by the legislature on March 11, calls for a nationwide program to build city parks by 2025. Cities were ordered to “scientifically plan and break urban green rings, green corridors, green wedges, and green corridors.” “

The plan also calls for the construction of 1,000 large parks across the country to encourage fitness. obesity has become a national problem… In the previous five-year plans, parks were hardly mentioned.

“Over the next five years, we can take steps faster,” said Hu Yonghong, director of the 500-acre Shanghai Chengshan Botanical Garden, which helps harvest trees and other plants to expand green space throughout the city.

China has an advantage in the construction of parks. Municipal officials can quickly bulldoze and bulldoze homes to clear land for new trees and paths, offering compensation in return.

Few of the residents resist, although sometimes there are disagreements. One owner had a 10-month standoff with the authorities in the southern Chinese city of Zhuhai, but his home was eventually destroyed.

Homeowners’ compensation costs have skyrocketed due to rising property prices. Residents of dilapidated quarters in the city center with communal toilets were offered modern multi-storey apartments with internal plumbing.

Mr. Zhang, whose three-story house was recently demolished by the authorities, was given two apartments in his place. But they were far away, one on the west side of the city and the other on the east.

He filmed both of them and moved to live with his son’s family in the city center, in part to be near the restored park at Suzhou Creek.

“It has become more convenient after the renovation,” he said.

Compensating homeowners is the biggest cost for new parks, but construction is also expensive. The Chinese Academy of Urban Planning and Design, affiliated with the government, has estimated that the investment for every square meter of a new park in Beijing costs between 300 and 500 yuan. That translates to $ 187,000 to $ 311,000 per acre.

If lower cost were applied across the country – most cities’ costs are cheaper than Beijing – it would be about $ 15 billion a year for new parks.

Unlike ports or rail lines, parks do not generate an obvious profit to cover their costs. In February, Beijing’s Chaoyang Park, nearly as big as Manhattan’s Central Park, abolished the unpopular 77-cent admission fee and sparked an immediate surge in visitors. Shanghai also made nearly all of its parks free.

Parks under construction in China bear little resemblance to parks in the West. In the United States and Western Europe, parks are increasingly returning to nature. The grass is left unmown at the base of the trees to give shelter to the little creatures. There are few paved paths, and some have even been torn to allow more rain to reach the plant roots.

China’s new urban parks often follow the tradition of squares and lakes that dominate Beijing’s Summer Palace and other imperial or temple gardens.

There are many trees on them, but there is usually not much grass under them. Instead, the focus is on high-priced walking paths, treadmills, and paved plazas that are popular with tai chi enthusiasts and squads. “dancing grandmothers… “

“They were built almost to serve as squares in European cities — squares for communication and social activities,” said Mr. Wang.

The design also reflects China’s concern for social control. Dense plantations of trees usually divide Chinese parks into several separate fields, preventing large crowds from forming.

For Pan Jun, the Suzhou Creek Park is a welcome respite from his job as a truck driver. Recently in the afternoon, Mr. Pan, 44, was sitting on a bench playing a video game, waiting for the next delivery in three hours.

When there was only concrete around, he said, “I used to sit in my truck.”

Coral Yang contributed to the research.

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