Entering Changfeng Park (长风公园) early on a Saturday morning, one may feel he’s stepping back into Shanghai’s history, finding himself in a place and time in which traditional Chinese music is the only thing to listen to and green is still the dominant color of the landscape. While the older men and women group together for their morning Tai Chi or Mahjong, members of the younger generations walk around hand-in-hand, enjoying the romantic backdrops of calm waters and manicured gardens. Changfeng Park has no shortages of beautiful backgrounds, and as one of the few landscape parks in Shanghai, it’s not only an ideal place for Chinese men and women of all ages to enjoy a beautiful day, but also, a convenient one.
When enjoying the many attractions that Changfeng Park has to offer one may easily forget the surrounding city. Just outside the park’s gates is a mixture of commercial and residential space that covers the spectrum of urban street life. To better understand Changfeng Park and how it relates to greater Shanghai, we must consider its fence to be a double edged sword keeping unwanted traffic on the outside and wanted traffic on the inside. I’d like to focus this discussion of Changfeng Park’s fences to two streets, Zaoyang Lu (枣阳路) and Daduhe Lu (大渡河路).
One of the most obvious features of Changfeng Park’s high fence is that it blocks out the noise from the Zaoyang Lu’s street vendors. Without this feature, the park’s singers would have to compete with the beckoning of electronics dealers while those practicing Tai Chi would have to do so to the tune of taxi horns. Come to the park on any given weekend and you will usually find at least one police officer removing merchants and beggars, keeping the gate free of economic intrusion. Without the fence and police officers, it is likely that the street vendors would work their way into the park and disrupt the calmness of its walkways. However, while Zaoyang Lu maintains a thriving economy despite the patrolled fence of Changfeng Park, the street on the opposite side of the park, Daduhe Lu, is not so lucky.
If one were to take a left at the corner of Zaoyang Lu and Jinshajiang Lu and walk all the way down to Daduhe Lu, he would find street life of a very different nature than that exhibited between Changfeng Park and ECNU’s back gate. Walking along Daduhe Lu, one can’t help but notice that Changfeng Park’s fence has all but eliminated the possibility of pedestrians crossing over from the park to the street. The street culture of Daduhe Lu has suffered as a result – the sidewalk on the side of Daduhe Lu remains barren while only a few feet away on the other side of the fence there exists the thriving, self-contained economy of Changfeng Park. The result of this lack of street culture is a sidewalk that not only lacks attractions, but also, a feeling of safety. Walk along Daduhe Lu after dark and you might get a sense of what I mean – to borrow a phrase from legendary urban theorist, Jane Jacobs, Daduhe Lu lacks “eyes on the street” necessary to watch over and bring comfort to lone travelers.
Although we may like to think of parks as being escapes from the city, we cannot forget that the city cannot escape from the park. A park can bring vital traffic to neighborhood vendors (like those on Zaoyang Lu) or it can all but prevent their existence (as in Daduhe Lu). Next time you head out to Changfeng Park, consider for a second not only what we gain, but also what we give up to have such a perfectly contained world of gardens and groves.
Consider the fence and which side you’re on.