Subdistrict becomes 'sittable' community with outdoor renewal plan

Li Qian
Jing'an provides 'furniture of the city' seating areas for elderly citizens, tourists and tired shoppers.
Li Qian
Subdistrict becomes 'sittable' community with outdoor renewal plan
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

A woman takes a selfie on a clamp-style bench.

Chen Yi loves hanging about on the narrow yet stylish Yuyuan Road. He has been working in Jing'ansi Subdistrict for about 20 years, and now works for a company located right on Yuyuan Road.

"I'm beguiled by the romance and charmingly old-fashioned vibe of the area, especially Yuyuan Road where historic buildings, artsy boutiques and chic cafes meld with the roadside lines of sycamore trees," he said, noting the recent emergence of outdoor benches.

"I love walking around with my colleagues at lunch break. Recently, I found benches in different styles have emerged on street corners. It's great that we can have a cup of coffee and a sit-down under the sun," he added.

According to Liu Dalu, director of the Jing'ansi Subdistrict's management office, the benches are part of its urban renewal plan to create a "sittable community" and enhance its soft power.

"Details reflect the city's warmth," he said. "We have tens of thousands of residents, and hundreds of thousands of people walking on our streets every day. We want to make them feel the warmth."

The subdistrict covers 1.57 square kilometers in downtown Jing'an District, east to Fumin and Changde roads, west to Zhenning Road, south to Changle Road, and north to Wanhangdu and Xinzha roads.

It has some of the city's most popular backstreets, such as "Ju Fu Chang," known by locals as the abbreviation of Julu, Fumin and Changle roads. They form the city's most beautiful blocks, and are the epitome of its spirit. However, they were beset by lack of public seating.

"It's a common problem in downtown areas. Surveys show that the city features inadequate supply and uneven distribution of public seating, especially those of aesthetic appeal and high quality. People often complain of nowhere to sit in public spaces," said Liu.

"Backstreets like 'Ju Fu Chang,' known as popular rendezvous areas for locals and check-in points for tourists, are more crying out for a solution."

So, the subdistrict has become the first in the city to improve public seating. It aims to provide 660 public seats, and has already installed over 100 since April.

Some are outdoor chairs shared with bars, cafes and restaurants. They allow passersby to take a load off their feet without consuming any product when their business is not busy.

Some are renovated from current outdoor seating, and some are newly built. Safety, durability and beauty are the primary facts being considered. And they are designed to meld with local greenery and environment, and demonstrate local flavor.

Subdistrict becomes 'sittable' community with outdoor renewal plan
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

A woman takes a rest on public seating built around flowerbeds.

Three different types of seating options are ledges, steps and benches.

For example, the deserted stairs of a closed roadside fruit store on Yuyuan Road have been recycled as outdoor seating and incorporated into the decorated wall of the sidewalk. The wall has been painted with images of local historic buildings and has become a popular photo-taking site.

Outside of the Shanghai Shixi Junior Middle School, three benches have been built beneath the trees, offering resting areas for parents waiting to pick up their children. Armrests for elders to grab, sockets for youngsters to charge their gadgets and QR codes for people to scan to learn about local history and culture are available.

"The public seating is more than just a resting place. It's a beautiful urban scene, a subtle blend of modern amenities and local culture," Liu said.

"It also provides great convenience. Local residents can get together on outdoor seating built in their neighborhoods to socialize. Local office workers can take lunch break on chairs offered by retailers and eateries, without buying drink or food. Visitors can take a rest and enjoy city views from stylish seating whenever they are tired."

Local celebrities such as conductor Cao Peng, dancer Huang Doudou and composer Lu Qiming, as well as institutions and companies such as Huadong Hospital, Jing'an Temple and Shanghai Theater Academy, have donated to the renewal project and left inscriptions on the seating.

"We hope to mobilize local people to work together on our plan. Small good deeds can make big community changes, showing strong humanistic concern," Liu said.

Subdistrict becomes 'sittable' community with outdoor renewal plan
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

An eatery shares its chairs for public use.

Describing the seating as "furniture of the city," Liu pointed out that the focal point of the next stage is to improve the long-term public seating management process.

"We will enhance supervision and specify who is to clean, maintain and repair the seating. Also, we encourage local people to be volunteers," he said.

Jing'an has worked for many years to keep a clean and beautiful environment.

On Yuyuan Road, every store has unique signage that displays local personality and culture.

For example, Yiyuanqin, a grocery store opened in the 1990s, has a yellow-and-blue sign featuring cartoon fonts. Yipinju, an 18-year-old hotpot eatery, has a traditional Chinese-style signboard. Eliza Flowers, a florist, has a sign incorporating vintage and natural elements in a simple but elegant sign.

They have helped create a vigorous community, and local stores have also benefited from the improved environment.

Jing'an has also set strict standards to ensure the bustling Nanjing Road W. is clean enough for people to be able to sit on the ground to chat with friends or munch on snacks.

Cleaning machines used in indoor venues such as shopping malls clean the roads every day, washing and polishing every brick paver. Cleaners are dispatched to designated zones to pick up trash.

Hundreds of sensors are installed in manhole covers, litter bins, electricity supply equipment and other facilities to detect whether sewers are flooded, litter bins are overflowing and electricity equipment is functioning property. When alerts are triggered, authorities rush to the scene the cope with problems.

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