The 'mother river' opens her arms to manifest Shanghai's splendor

Yang Jian
How derelict waterfronts became the pride of a city's commitment to create an exceptional urban environment.
Yang Jian
The 'mother river' opens her arms to manifest Shanghai's splendor

Rowers race on Suzhou Creek in the Head of the Shanghai River Regatta.

Whenever Shanghai basks in its ambitions to match the River Thames in London or the Seine in Paris in terms of modern urban ambience, all eyes turn to Suzhou Creek and the West Bund.

The creek and the Huangpu River into which it flows are collectively known as the city's 'mother river," and they never looked more inviting. Walkways, parks, cycling and jogging lanes, landscaping, cafes, art galleries, cruise boats and regattas have replaced what were once dilapidated industrial zones and polluted waters.

Today, stroll along the riverside and see how the transformation has uplifted the spirits of both residents and visitors alike.

Seniors practice tai chi, children tumble down a grassy slope, lovers stroll hand in hand, friends meet for coffee and the river zephyrs cast a pleasant aura over the whole environment.

The major work to clean up and rehabilitate both the river and creek banks has transformed a waterfront region stretching for 40 kilometers. Ferries and sight-seeing cruise boats ply the waters.

The major work may be completed, but the city plans to keep fine-tuning the blueprint as part of its 2023 priorities, according to Shanghai's Huangpu River and Suzhou Creek Development Office.

The 'mother river' opens her arms to manifest Shanghai's splendor
Dong Jun / SHINE

Foreign families in Shanghai on boat tour along Suzhou Creek.

The area is now a magnet for both locals and foreign visitors. Elon Musk's mother Maye Musk recently posted two photos to end her two-week-long visit to China.

One photo showed her against the backdrop of Lujiazui skyscrapers on the opposite bank of the Huangpu River; the other had her posed in front of the Shanghai Postal Museum along the creek.

"Goodbye Shanghai. Thank you for a fantastic two weeks," she wrote on Twitter in a post viewed over a million times.

Roli Asthana, the head of UN Uzbekistan, said the creek and river were "breathtaking" after she took a late night walk from the creek to the Bund.

Faramarz Oweissi, a business manager of Minhang-based internet firm Quectel, said he was not only amazed by the natural scenery but also by a robotic ice cream maker robot when he was strolling along the Huangpu River over the weekend.

"This modern approach has the potential to outperform traditional retail models," he said.

Georgia Ellen from the United States said she preferred the ferry service to the Metro to cross the Huangpu River.

"At night, from the view on a boat deck, the stars on the Pearl Tower shine brightly, and the river flows so smoothly. It is so wonderful," Ellen said.

Popular blogger Selie from South Korea said the Bund has perfectly combined European-style architecture and the futuristic skyscrapers on the opposite bank of Pudong.

"My home country has no place as beautiful as the Bund," Selie said, adding that she fell in love with Shanghai when she first visited the Bund three years ago.

The 'mother river' opens her arms to manifest Shanghai's splendor

A foreign couple captures a special moment along Suzhou Creek.

Even a century ago, the Bund was a popular spot with foreigners. Celebrities such as Albert Einstein, Charlie Chaplin, Bertrand Russell and Bernard Shaw first set foot on Chinese soil on the North Bund in Hongkou District.

"The river and creek bear the profound history and culture of Shanghai," said Xue Liyong, a senior researcher of the Shanghai History Museum. "The creek alone represents over 1,000 years of the city's history."

The Huangpu River once served as a major shipping and transport hub with warehouses, wharves and factories lining its western shore and creeksides. Over time, most were abandoned and left to decay. Old residential streets in the area became derelict.

Where possible, history was preserved in landmark buildings that were renovated and placed under heritage protection.

The 'mother river' opens her arms to manifest Shanghai's splendor

Against the backdrop of Pudong skyscrapers, residents stop to rest or dine on a sightseeing platform along Suzhou Creek.

Suzhou Creek is actually a 125-kilometer waterway that originates in Taihu Lake in neighboring Jiangsu Province and winds through the cities of Suzhou, Kunshan and Shanghai before finally emptying into the Huangpu River at the West Bund.

Since Shanghai opened its port to the world in 1843, the creek has been the backdrop for dramatic watersheds in the city's history. It was the scene of wartime suffering and the birthplace of China's earliest national industries.

Projects for cleaning up the polluted and redeveloping its banks have been under way since 1998.

Today the waterway is so clean that at least 45 species of fish flourish there, according to the Shanghai Water Authority.

The 'mother river' opens her arms to manifest Shanghai's splendor

Products and exhibits at the China International Import Expo are on display at a Huangpu River amenities station in Pudong.

About 90 public service stations have been set up along the river and the creek in innovative designs, offering amenities such as public toilets, drinking water, tourism assistance, eateries and exhibition space.

Putuo District, for instance, which has the longest downtown section of the creek, plans to eventually have 25 such stations along its 21-kilometer section.

"Visitors to the waterfront will be able to find a public toilet every 500 meters," said Xu Yijie, an official with the Putuo Construction Management Commission.

More amenities will be built beneath waterway bridges to revitalize still neglected areas, Xu said.

According to the city's blueprint, the riverside paths along the Huangpu River will be extended this year to reach suburban areas in Minhang District.

The Gongqing Forest Park and the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology, both in Yangpu District, will open up soon as part of the overall plan.

New attractions along the river include the WorldSkills Museum in Yangpu and the Star Museum on the West Bund in Xuhui.

A sightseeing bus service began on the West Bund over the weekend to connect the key museums and art galleries along the river. Tickets cost only 5 yuan (72 US cents).

The 'mother river' opens her arms to manifest Shanghai's splendor

A jogger runs alongside a greenbelt path at Suzhou Creek in Changning District.

Sports activities also play a key role in the transformation of the areas.

A dragon boat race has been held on the creek annually since 2004, and the yearly Suzhou Creek regatta has been rated one of the most popular sporting events by residents.

The inaugural Shanghai Suzhou Creek Half Marathon will fire its starting pistol on April 22, with over 4,000 runners expected to race along the creek.

Seventeen academics and experts from areas such as urban planning and tourism have been invited to form a panel to give advice on future development of the river and creek.

"Every year, new highlights will be unveiled along the riverside regions," said the official with the office.

The 'mother river' opens her arms to manifest Shanghai's splendor

A cruise boat near the mouth of Suzhou Creek.

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