Down­town pilot plan launched

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - Depth -

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.”

Sev­eral chal­lenges

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.

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