Downtown pilot plan launched
The company launched a Public Space Plan at Jiefangbei in the heart of Chongqing to create an interconnected network of streets with links to newly built subway stations, making it easy and attractive to reach them.
Kristian Skovbakke Villadsen, a partner and director at Gehl, who has worked with a number of Chinese cities, architects and urban planners, said, “The plan categorized the streets in the heart of Chongqing by their qualities as public spaces, and not by how many cars they could accommodate per hour.
“To my knowledge this was one of the first times a Chinese city had actually started to recognize streets’ importance as public spaces — you could say as the physical interface of the city.
“Historically, the street has always had immense importance in Chinese cities, but in recent decades it has been treated only as a space for traffic and not as key area for quality of daily life.”
Villadsen, who spent a considerable period of time in Chongqing for the project, said: “It is a place with a fantastic natural landscape of rivers and mountains, which from a city planning and quality-of-life point of view are great gifts. Of course, the topography can be seen as a challenge, but I would argue that it gives more potential to the city.”
But like other huge cities, Chongqing is facing the problem of being “too large, too mono-functional and too ori- ented toward the car”, Villadsen said.
“This is a challenge in many places in the world, but maybe in particular in China and therefore unfortunately also in Chongqing. We simply need to start planning for daily quality of life for people to build livable and sustainable cities in the future.”
The Mountain City No 3 Walking Trail, or Route 3, on the Yuzhong Peninsula is an example of the pilot program and has become a new attraction. The project focused on connecting the new subway system with the existing network by linking different streets and plazas.
The 3.9-kilometer trail starts at Zhongxing Road by the Shibanpo Yangtze River Bridge, takes in the ancient city walls and ends at Tongyuan Gate, one of the remaining two gates in the city from the Song Dynasty (960-1279), and the only one still in use.
Yu, who led the pilot project for Route 3, said it is a typical area with local cultural and geographical characteristics.
It has different kinds of streets, and the trail connects parks, plazas, hospitals, museums, schools, residential communities, markets, historical sites, and bus and subway stations.
The project was aimed at upgrading street facilities to improve them for walkers.
Yu said, “For the first time in Chongqing’s city planning, behavioral psychology was used in the research.”
The research team observed the lifestyles of local residents, recorded their routines and activities and drew up a pattern of their daily journeys.
The project faced several challenges, such as the large number of senior citizens in the area, missing links in the pedestrian network, and streets built solely for vehicles — deterring walking and other activities.
To tackle these problems, identification of walking trails was strengthened by adding a new road lighting system, distinctive road signs and footpaths. More public space was created around schools, clinics and seniors’ houses to encourage people to socialize.
“The most challenging task was addressing how people could cross the road conveniently and safely,” Yu said.
The team found that most people do not like using tunnels and pedestrian overpasses to cross a street.
With support from the local government, facilities around pedestrian crossings were upgraded, and specially colored crossing areas were built along the trail to improve the walking experience.
The Route 3 project has led to a 12 percent increase in pedestrian flow at one of the new metro stations.
People can now access the trail from several entrances in old alleyways. The route, which overlooks the Yangtze River, boasts several historical sites and passes local residents’ homes. When the weather permits, people play mahjong or poker by the trail, or sit down and chat with their neighbors.
Yu said he enjoyed walking along Route 3. “Many of the main points from our recommendations have been implemented and we have received very positive feedback from the local residents. You could hear and see that it had improved their life quality,” he said.
Zhu, the 80-year-old, is happy with the changes that have been made, and after the upgrading project was completed in her neighborhood, she has ventured out to meet her friends more often.
“Now we often gather in the small parks and I feel we are much closer to each other,” she said.