Waterfront renovation has stories to tell
A stretch of the Suzhou Creek in Jing’an District has become a new landmark paying tribute to local history.
The 400-meter-long waterfront faces the historical Sihang Warehouse to the north.
About 2,100 square meters of asphalt roads were replaced by cobblestones to add some authentic Shanghai flavor as narrow cobblestone lanes were a common scene in traditional shikumen (stone-gate) neighborhoods.
Plants that flower throughout the year adorn the 2,300 square meters of greenery, lined with camphor and ginkgo trees.
Traces of Jing’an history can be found on the waterfront.
Mosaic-style decorations inlaid in the flood-control walls were inspired by the facades of the fairytale-like Moller Villa. A map of Jing’an in the 1950s and drawings of some historical buildings such as the Sihang Warehouse are engraved on the ground.
Bronze plates displaying “disappearing” road names such as Seymour for today’s Shaanxi Road N. and Majestic for today’s Nanhui Road can been seen on a red-brick wall on the waterfront.
The railings along the riverfront path have been designed based on the shape of the windows of the Sihang Warehouse.
“We encode ‘red’ DNA when we improve the local waterfront environment,” said Dong Weiyi from the district’s housing and construction management commission.
The warehouse was built in the early 1930s as a storage facility for four banks when the city’s homegrown industries and entrepreneurs thrived on the north bank of the Suzhou Creek.
During the Battle of Shanghai in 1937, it was the last stand for Chinese forces against the Japanese invaders and one of the bloodiest episodes of Shanghai’s wartime history.
Now, it is a memorial with bomb and bullet holes preserved on the west wall.
“We hope to explore local history and display it to the public,” said Zhong Lu, chief designer of the environmental improvement project. “Also, we think it’s very important to bring people into our project. Involvement can create a sense of belonging.”
Poems written by local residents to show their affection to the Suzhou Creek can been seen on the waterfront railings, making it an 80-meter “poetry corner.” The 21 poems were selected in a competition and are engraved in Chinese, English and braille.
People can scan QR codes on benches to listen to more poems from the competition, recited by blind people and local celebrities.
Zhao Hongyi, 13, was surprised to find his poem on the railings. His “Suzhou Creek People, Jing’an Dream” depicts how the river looks in the eyes of his grandmother, his mother and himself.
“Before the epic war movie ‘The Eight Hundred’ was screened, I didn’t care about the Suzhou Creek though I live nearby. The movie really shocked me. It reminded me of what my grandmother told me about the battle around the Sihang Warehouse,” he said.
He wrote that down as his first paragraph, and continued with his mother’s view of the Suzhou Creek.
“My mother said that when she was young, the family squeezed in a very narrow room, just about 10 square meters. It was a hard time but neighbors cared about each other,” he said. “I was born in 2008. What I saw was a prosperous world where dreams are made of.”
Renowned Shanghai writer Zhao Lihong also saw his poem engraved on the waterfront.
In his childhood, the river was clean and one of his favorite pastimes was to swim in the river. Over the years, he saw it turn black and stinky.
“I had thought it could never be reversed. I had resigned to losing it, and I had felt so desperate,” he said. “However, I saw hope in recent years.”
The river has become clean again. The riverbanks that used to be occupied by garbage, warehouses and illegal structures are now beautiful public areas where people can walk.
“Residents like me have special feelings for the river. So, it’s meaningful to make local people write poems for the river,” he said.
Dong said the area is just one of the three new landmarks along the Jing’an section of the Suzhou Creek after the riverside space was returned to the public.
The Butterfly Bay Park has been integrated into the waterfront area to become an open green space.
The improvement of the waterfront environment surrounding the site of the former Chamber of Commerce of Shanghai, China’s first modern commerce chamber founded in 1912, is still underway but expected to be finished in seven to 10 days.
“Next, we will upgrade lighting along the river and renovate the facades of buildings along the river,” Dong said. “Especially, we will explore how to transform the gloomy areas below the bridges over the Suzhou Creek to people’s hangouts. We plan to give every one of these areas a theme by 2023.”