On Saturday, the 3rd-year urban design class visited the “M50” site and the surrounding area in Shanghai, which they will be redesigning for the semester. The instructors, Chris and Yu, invited me along! Before showing pictures, here are some maps to orient you. In the first map above, M50 is just below the center of the image. The relatively empty area to the north and west of M50 is the site of a former furniture factory complex. That is going to be the site for the semester’s exercise. Only a few buildings, deemed historic, have been kept. The rest of the site has been cleared for new development. The river which bounds the site is called Suzhou Creek.
In the next series of maps (courtesy of BaiduMaps), I zoom straight back out. Suzhou Creek is still visible running from west to east (left to right) across this area. Why is it called Suzhou Creek even though we are in the middle of Shanghai, you might ask? Glad you did… Whereas Shanghai dates back to 1843, Suzhou dates back to at least the 8th century; so for more than 1,000 years Suzhou was the main city in this region. People used to travel from Suzhou to Shanghai and back mainly on this creek.
The center of Shanghai is where Suzhou Creek runs (eastward) into the HuangPu River, which is flowing northward. It is the larger river on the right side of this map. Suzhou Creek runs into it at the rightward bend, which is the location of the Bund in Shanghai. In classically logical Chinese geographical thinking, the area west (Xi: 西) of the HuangPu (黄浦) is called PuXi (浦西); and the area east (Dong: 东) of the HuangPu is called PuDong (浦东). The mega-scale financial center, and the international airport, are located east of the river, so both are called PuDong.
At this scale SuZhou Creek is no longer shown, but you get a sense of the overall layout of the whole city. At top center, the HuangPu River flows into the Yangze just as the Yangze itself is flowing into the East China Sea. You can also see the rail lines running west from the city center towards SuZhou.
In this last map, I zoomed out further and shifted westward a bit so you could see SuZhou, located on the left edge of this image. Much of the land between both cities is farmland, interspersed with industrial compounds and the occasional cluster of high-rise residential towers.
So here we are arriving by chartered bus in Shanghai, for my first time. I was expecting serious density, like Manhattan or Bangkok, and a bit more chaos than the highly-manicured SuZhou Industrial Park. To some degree I got what I expected; but the traffic congestion is not as bad as downtown San Francisco. Note the illuminated congestion-indicators in the sign above the roadway.
This older building amidst towers reminds me of a scene in the film Inception. Anybody with me on this?
Here we arrive at M50, which is a series of preserved older buildings now used as art galleries.
The M50 district definitely caters to foreigners.
M50 is bounded on the east by SuZhou Creek. The pipe in the foreground is significant: the ground (grade) in M50 is the same elevation as SuZhou Creek. As in New Orleans, I suspect they have to do a lot of pumping to prevent the water-table in M50 from rising to the surface.
Behind the riverside wall is a lovely garden. The table and chairs are carved from solid stone, and beautifully polished.
This preserved and restored building reminds me of Faneuil Hall in Boston.
A bit of commercial photography at M50.
This photograph did not turn out well, but look! Double-decker bike parking! And we, in California, were so proud when we put in double-decker car parking…
This image is for my wife. Electric scooters are very popular here, and many are shaped like Vespas. The Union Jack is a popular decoration. Oy!
We walked around the corner from M50 and into the cleared site of the former furniture factory. As I mentioned in previous posts, it seems to me that vegetable-gardening is the most sensible use of urban space where there are not actual buildings. I don’t mean this only in the case of China, but more generally because vegetable gardening is labor intensive, and in a city, the labor is living right there. Here, where no-one is looking, the caretakers of the construction-side are acting sensibly and crowing corn and other crops.
One of the historic buildings which will be kept. In the foreground is the lumpy terrain of demolished building rubble.
Apparently the building in the foreground-left was the factory-owners mansion, so it is being kept. Meanwhile the housing on the north side of SuZhou Creek, in the background, gives some sense of the new scale of development in this city.
In this portrait-view, Chris and Yu provide more of a sense of scale to this scene.
Another building that will be kept. Note that after just a few years as a cleared site, vegetation is reclaiming the area in the foreground.
Yu and Chris contemplate a potential site for a pedestrian bridge from the neighborhood on the far side of the creek to the park on this side.
SuZhou Creek has been cleaned up considerably in the last ten years. The water is still green and opaque, but it has no odor. Even though there are clearly tens of thousands of people living just across the creek from this spot, the feeling was quite serene. If you can imagine the apartment towers as tall cliffs, somewhere in southern Utah, that gives some sense of the unexpectedly non-urban feeling of this setting.
Apparently September 12th was an auspicious day among Buddhists in this area, and as an act of devotion they release fish into the creek. The security guard for this site, however, prefers to catch and eat said fish. Yu tells me they are excellent in soup.
The third-year students interviewed another caretaker for this site.
Yep, cornstalks and high-rise towers.
At the west end of the cleared site is a bridge over SuZhou Creek. Given the scale of development on both sides of this bridge, I was surprised at the lack of congestion.
Buses are well-used, but I have not yet seen any bus nearly so crowded as the 30 Stockton in San Francisco, nor the buses I used to ride in Kabul.
As one of the studio-leaders, Chris was looking at access to open-space near the study-site. This is the park on the north side of the creek. Access to the park is difficult, and it is also very underused.
I was expecting much more of Shanghai to look like this intersection above. But even in this case, the traffic is pretty mellow compared to many, perhaps most of the cities I have seen.
During our exploration of a massive furniture mall, Chris found a fire-exit corridor that was open and let out out onto a rear fire-escape stair. From here we could look at potential connection points between the redevelopment site and the city to the south. But I also noticed something else: when someone lowered the partition wall between these two properties, they simply jackhammered away a carved stone freize. In California it is rare to find anyone willing to pay for cut stone, let alone decorative carved stone. Here it is treated as cheap.
…speaking of stone: these mushrooms are carved granite. I cannot even guess their function. I wonder if they were once commissioned as part of a display in the mall, and were then salvaged by the staff once that display was taken down.
Here is my art photo. Most of Shanghai is so new that it is rare to see a real “patina” formed from layers of old paint and moisture, despite the frequent rains here.
This is how the furniture store advertises one of its beds: each side is adjustable to suit different-sized people. I am amused–but also bemused–by the choice of a Swedish beauty-contest winner as one of the models.
I love the cargo-bikes here. This is an especially fine model.