Pedestrian bridge a source of life for nature and people
An elevated footbridge as a summer resort where people can rest and cool off? You'll probably laugh the idea away. After all, most pedestrian overpasses are exposed to the elements, such as the scorching sun.
But what if you walk on a tree-growing bridge over wind-kissed beaches and waters? That's what the Yuandang Pedestrian Bridge looks like. Trees, flowers and reeds grow out of the 600-meter structure over Yuandang Lake, providing pedestrians with plenty of shade. Moreover, summer winds blow across the 13-square-kilometer lake, effectively cooling off the bridge and people resting on it.
"The lake wind blows freely, with no hindrance like you get in the middle of many downtown high rises," a middle-aged man said. He parked his moped on the bridge and sat on a stone bench under a spacious steel sunshade.
"No heat-island effect here," he said with a broad smile.
Heat islands refer to urbanized areas where temperatures are higher because clusters of buildings and certain other infrastructure block the free flow of breezes and reflect the sun's heat more than natural landscapes.
Don't mistake the Yuandang Pedestrian Bridge as an outlying product, though. It's right on the shoulder of a new downtown area in the making, surrounded by Shanghai, Jiangsu Province and Zhejiang Province. The new urban center, dubbed "the parlor of a Jiangnan-style watertown," encompasses Yuandang Lake and will cover 35 square kilometers upon completion in the near future.
As such, the Yuandang Pedestrian Bridge is within the radius of an emerging city center in the heart of the Yangtze River Delta region. The "parlor" is a pioneer of joint urbanization in Shanghai and its two adjacent provinces. In this, modern clusters of high rises and hardened road surfaces have given way to vast water bodies and wetlands.
By giving more play to natural landscapes like forests, lakes, rivers and wetlands, Shanghai and its neighboring provinces have demonstrated that a city doesn't have to be tall, sprawling and suffocating, as is often the case with modern Western-style urbanization.
The Yuandang Pedestrian Bridge first opened to public traffic at the end of last year, and I was one of a few people who had a trial walk on it. In my essay published in Shanghai Daily on November 27 last year, I wrote: "Walking on a newly built footbridge in the shape of a flying ribbon last week, I felt I was anchored on a boat in the middle of a lake ― a typical scene in ancient Chinese landscape paintings.
"On both sides of the 600-meter-long footbridge are islets planted with trees and flowers and banked with large stones that leave space for the soil to 'breathe.' Such 'breathing' banks are conducive to water life, and feature in many ancient landscape paintings which show man's harmony with nature, especially in the 14th-century masterpiece 'Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains' – one of China's most treasured ink-wash paintings."
When I revisited the bridge area yesterday – about half a year since its opening to traffic – I found the water was even clearer, with underwater grass and floating wetlands "planted" across the lake to siphon off dust. A beach-front forest of firs is also taking shape.
For a long time, the lake had been a de facto border between Qingpu District in Shanghai and Wujiang District in Suzhou – no bridge, no road. Local residents either had to take a ferry or a detoured long-distance bus to travel between the two places. Now, with the footbridge and a nearby road, two-way traffic has become a matter of a few minutes.
"In the 1970s, a one-way trip by ferry would cost 5 cents," an old man told me yesterday as we chatted on the pedestrian bridge. "As a farmer, I earned only a few jiao at that time, so the ferry cost me dearly indeed." (One jiao equals 10 cents.)
The lake area got a shot in the arm two years ago when it became part of the demonstration zone of integrated development of the Yangtze River Delta region, which is a national strategy focused on a new type of economic and social growth that tilts toward better protection of the natural environment.