En­joy­ing a Green Get­away in Pocket Parks

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Wang Wei Edited by David Ball Pho­tos by Zhao Meng

Bei­jing is now home to nu­mer­ous pocket parks, which are havens of tran­quil­lity in the bustling city and al­low res­i­dents to enjoy some respite from the pres­sure of work. In the fu­ture, more parks will mush­room across the city to im­prove its liv­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

Flow­ers and trees cover my court­yard, which is sur­rounded by pretty path­ways; you can visit here through­out the year, and we can make pa­per-cut­tings to dec­o­rate the win­dows on sunny days.” The scene de­scribed in this poem has be­come a re­al­ity in Shicha­hai, Xicheng Dis­trict due to the devel­op­ment of pocket parks.

Pocket parks are small ur­ban spa­ces open to the pub­lic, of­ten found scat­tered across cities as places for their res­i­dents to re­lax. Small green spa­ces, mini­parks, street gar­dens and com­mu­nity play­grounds are all forms of pocket parks. Over the past two years, six of these ar­eas have been de­vel­oped in Shicha­hai, al­low­ing lo­cals to visit parks near their homes and see green spa­ces by sim­ply open­ing their win­dows. Res­i­dents can enjoy all kinds of leisure ac­tiv­i­ties at these lo­ca­tions.

Green Spa­ces Within 500 Me­tres

Heavy traf­fic and crowded streets are com­mon scenes in busy, fast-paced cities. A slow pace of life has long been rel­e­gated to the mem­ory of the cities' res­i­dents—no longer can neigh­bours find the op­por­tu­nity to sit around out­side their homes and chat with each other like they once did. Apart from

sup­ply­ing the nec­es­sary re­sources for its so­cial and eco­nomic devel­op­ment, a city can of­ten only pro­vide lim­ited leisure and recre­ational spa­ces for its res­i­dents in the ar­eas where they live.

A few years ago, Xicheng Dis­trict be­gan “green­ing” the hu­tong (al­leys) in Shicha­hai. An el­derly res­i­dent once com­plained to Guo Yu, an of­fi­cial from a gov­ern­ment agency re­spon­si­ble for gar­den­ing and green­ing, that he had not taken a walk in the hu­tong for years be­cause of the con­stant traf­fic and parked ve­hi­cles, nor had he chat­ted with his neigh­bours for a long time be­cause of the lack of space in the al­leys.

His feel­ing of dis­tress is a re­al­ity for many res­i­dents in their daily lives. In Shicha­hai there are very few large leisure spa­ces near their houses, be­sides Bei­hai and Houhai parks, which con­tain space for nearby res­i­dents to par­take in leisure ac­tiv­i­ties. That el­derly res­i­dent's re­marks left an im­pres­sion on Guo Yu, who has been en­gaged in the agency's gar­den­ing and green­ing for nearly 30 years. How­ever, Guo re­alised that he had to face re­al­ity. De­vel­op­ing large parks like Bei­hai and Houhai parks with a wide-range of ser­vices and ameni­ties is nearly im­pos­si­ble in Xicheng be­cause it be­longs to one of Bei­jing's old­est and most cen­tral dis­tricts.

In re­cent years, with the im­ple­men­ta­tion of spe­cial ac­tions to re­lieve Bei­jing of func­tions nonessen­tial to its role as the cap­i­tal, im­prov­ing the city's en­vi­ron­ment and op­ti­mis­ing its ur­ban spa­tial lay­out by ad­just­ing mea­sures to lo­cal con­di­tions have be­come ma­jor gov­ern­ment com­mit­ments. Va­cant plots and idle land has been made avail­able for use as pocket parks to ex­pand ur­ban green spa­ces af­ter the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the spe­cial ac­tions. Guo said with a smile: “Mak­ing use of small green spa­ces can sup­ple­ment large parks in pro­vid­ing places for res­i­dents to carry out their leisure ac­tiv­i­ties near their homes. The res­i­dents say they're very happy with this form of im­ple­men­ta­tion.”

The Xicheng Dis­trict Bu­reau of Af­foresta­tion of Bei­jing Mu­nic­i­pal­ity, Xicheng's sub- dis­trict of­fices and other gov­ern­ment agencies worked to­gether to de­velop a num­ber of ur­ban for­est parks and pocket parks, small green spa­ces and roof gar­dens to im­prove the en­vi­ron­ment of its com­mu­ni­ties. Five hun­dred-me­tre (m) green space ser­vice cov­er­age ar­eas for its res­i­dents have grad­u­ally been achieved, en­abling them to “visit parks around their houses and see green spa­ces by open­ing their win­dows.” Over the past three years, Xicheng has de­vel­oped 6 new ur­ban for­est parks, 54 pocket parks, 127 small green spa­ces and 36 roof gar­dens; cre­ated a total of 26.58 hectares (ha) of green spa­ces; im­proved 10 old com­mu­ni­ties' green spa­ces that cover a total area of 5.15 ha; and achieved the green­ing of a total of 1.85 ha for spe­cial pur­poses.

In re­sponse to the dis­trict gov­ern­ment's call to ex­pand green spa­ces for its res­i­dents, the Shicha­hai Sub-dis­trict Of­fice has de­vel­oped pocket parks on Xishiku Da­jie (Street), Da­honglu­ochang Jie (Street), and in Dong­fushouli, Hu­oshen­miao, Dong­gong­fang and Long­tou­jing com­mu­ni­ties. The 2,188-square-me­tre (sq.m) Long­tou­jing Pocket Park is the largest of the six, whilst the other five are classed as small pocket parks, of which the 360-sq.m Dong­gong­fang Pocket Park is the small­est and the 870sq.m Dong­fushouli Pocket Park is the largest. In terms of their de­sign, the parks all fea­ture tra­di­tional Chi­nese gar­den­ing and na­tive plants from the city. The de­sign­ers com­bined their own styles with the sur­round­ing en­vi­ron­ments to high­light the cul­tural fea­tures of Shicha­hai whilst ad­her­ing to pro­tec­tion re­quire­ments.

These pocket parks are small in size, but they meet the lo­cal res­i­dents' needs to “be able to see green spa­ces within 500 me­tres of their dwellings.” For ex­am­ple, from the north­east exit of Bei­hai North Sta­tion on Sub­way Line 6, one can see Long­tou­jing Park; from the sta­tion's north­west exit, one can ac­cess Dong­fushouli and Dong­gong­fang pocket parks; and af­ter a five-min­utes walk from there one will ar­rive at Xishiku Pocket Park, af­ter which, walk­ing south an­other seven or eight min­utes, one will reach Da­honglu­ochang Pocket Park. These small parks are not far from each other and form a scenic route in Shicha­hai.

An Out­door Liv­ing Room

Around the north­west exit of Bei­hai North Sta­tion of Sub­way Line 6 are the two ad­ja­cent Dong­fushouli and Dong­gong­fang pocket parks. Ac­cord­ing to Liang Fei, an of­fi­cial from the Shicha­hai Sub-dis­trict Of­fice, Dong­fushouli Pocket Park was for­merly a con­struc­tion site for Sub­way Line 6 and had been left idle af­ter the line opened. The area was later in­cluded as land to be de­vel­oped for ex­pand­ing green spa­ces for Xicheng res­i­dents. In March 2018, the Xicheng Dis­trict Bu­reau of Af­foresta­tion of Bei­jing Mu­nic­i­pal­ity started green­ing the area, and Dong­fushouli Pocket Park was com­pleted less than two months later.

Dong­fushouli Pocket Park might be small, but it is also a beau­ti­ful, hid­den spot filled with a sense of his­tory. The park con­tains a tra­di­tional Chi­nese pavil­ion with long cor­ri­dors and benches, which serves as its main build­ing. The green pavil­ion is set off by the red benches and half of the park is walled. There are walls sur­round­ing the pavil­ion next to which are grey-brick build­ings nestling amidst bam­boos. The other side of the park fea­tures a small square with mag­no­lias, pomegranates, be­go­nias and other plants cre­at­ing a vi­brant en­vi­ron­ment for nearby res­i­dents to get close to na­ture. The park at­tracts throngs of visitors, es­pe­cially in the sum­mer when the mag­no­lias and pomegranates pro­vide wel­come shade for passers-by and nearby lo­cals.

One high­light of the park is a brass statue of a young boy ab­sorbed in read­ing a book, be­sides which is a statue of a coal stove with an old ket­tle for boil­ing wa­ter. Guo Yu ex­plained: “These stat­ues mark the city's ‘coal to elec­tric­ity' project (re­plac­ing coal with clean en­ergy). In the past, the hu­tong res­i­dents al­ways used coal stoves to boil wa­ter and heat their homes in the

win­ter. Af­ter the com­ple­tion of the project, coal con­sump­tion was cut and re­placed by elec­tric­ity and nat­u­ral gas, with coal stoves hav­ing now be­come mem­o­ries of the res­i­dents' daily lives.”

Al­though Dong­fushouli Pocket Park is small, it ben­e­fits around 1,900 fam­i­lies liv­ing around it. The neigh­bour­ing Dong­gong­fang Pocket Park was pre­vi­ously a sup­ple­men­tary site for de­vel­op­ing the Bei­jing Sub­way. In 2017, the Shicha­hai Sub-dis­trict Of­fice co­op­er­ated with other gov­ern­ment agencies and com­pa­nies to de­velop Dong­gong­fang Pocket Park. Plants in the park in­clude Chi­nese scholar trees, Prunus mumes and irises as well as a trel­lis of Chi­nese wis­te­ria. Next to the park, small court­yards be­long­ing to res­i­dents can be found. By sim­ply open­ing their gates or win­dows, they can en­ter the park or see its at­trac­tions. There­fore, as de­scribed by sev­eral jour­nal­ists, the park has be­come

“an out­door liv­ing room” for the sur­round­ing res­i­dents.

A Place for In­ner Peace

Like Dong­fushouli Pocket Park, Xishiku Pocket Park was also com­pleted in Shicha­hai in 2018. The park is tri­an­gu­lar and cov­ers an area of about 869 sq.m. Its north side is bor­dered by tra­di­tional si­heyuan (court­yard dwellings), to its east is Pek­ing Univer­sity First Hos­pi­tal and to its west is Xishiku Da­jie, which is close to Bei­hai Park. Apart from pro­vid­ing a leisure space for sur­round­ing res­i­dents, Xishiku Pocket Park has been well re­ceived by the hos­pi­tal and its pa­tients.

Ac­cord­ing to Liang Fei, the Xishiku Pocket Park was pre­vi­ously a car park serv­ing the nearby Pek­ing Univer­sity First Hos­pi­tal. The area had been plagued by heavy traf­fic for many years be­cause of pa­tients and fam­ily members con­stantly go­ing in and out of the hos­pi­tal, plus the busy car park. The is­sue led to end­less com­plaints from nearby res­i­dents and passersby, so the hos­pi­tal planned to change the sit­u­a­tion. In 2018, the Shicha­hai Sub-dis­trict Of­fice started mak­ing im­prove­ments to the en­vi­ron­ment around the hos­pi­tal. One change in­volved turn­ing the car park into a green space, as well as op­ti­mis­ing the hos­pi­tal's trans­porta­tion routes and en­hanc­ing park­ing man­age­ment.

The sub-dis­trict of­fice worked closely with other gov­ern­ment agencies in Xicheng, in­clud­ing the dis­trict's trans­port law en­force­ment team and its of­fice for gar­den­ing and green­ing man­age­ment, to for­mu­late a plan to im­prove the en­vi­ron­ment around the hos­pi­tal. At the be­gin­ning of 2018, the sub-dis­trict of­fice launched its plan. The car park was re­de­vel­oped into a quiet pocket park in the noisy neigh­bour­hood; and bus stops with crowded pas­sen­gers around the gate of the hos­pi­tal were re­ar­ranged and moved east­wards. Other mea­sures in­cluded ad­ding safety bar­ri­ers along the nearby roads, re­quir­ing pri­vate cars to park in the hos­pi­tal's un­der­ground car park and chang­ing trans­porta­tion routes around the hos­pi­tal's out­pa­tient build­ing into one-way streets. Af­ter im­ple­ment­ing the plan to ease traf­fic con­ges­tion in the area, pa­tients who need to drive no longer had to worry about park­ing or get­ting stuck on the roads around the hos­pi­tal.

A num­ber of ef­fec­tive mea­sures changed the bustling area into a quiet and leisurely pocket park. When de­sign­ing the park, the de­sign­ers fol­lowed the con­cept of “im­prov­ing the sur­round­ing en­vi­ron­ment by high­light­ing tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture and cre­at­ing an ur­ban leisure space.” The park con­tains me­an­der­ing path­ways and a square, and its build­ings are dec­o­rated with mag­pie pat­terns be­cause of the bird's aus­pi­cious con­no­ta­tions ac­cord­ing to tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture, which sym­bol­ise the hope that pa­tients get bet­ter soon. The park is rich in green veg­e­ta­tion in­clud­ing Chi­nese scholar trees, gink­gos and mag­no­lias, en­abling visitors to enjoy shade in the sum­mer. The park in­stalled signs at its north and south ends to show the Pek­ing Univer­sity First Hos­pi­tal's lay­out since many of the park's visitors are ei­ther pa­tients or their fam­ily members.

The pocket park not only adds a vi­brant green space to the neigh­bour­hood but also pro­vides a good place for lo­cal res­i­dents to enjoy leisure ac­tiv­i­ties and for the hos­pi­tal's pa­tients to re­lax.

His­tor­i­cal and Cul­tural El­e­ments

Liang Fei ex­plained: “We hoped to re­flect more cul­ture through the ar­chi­tec­ture

when de­vel­op­ing the pocket parks, be­cause Shicha­hai is one of Bei­jing's his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural preser­va­tion ar­eas.” Ac­cord­ing to this con­cept, the de­sign­ers fo­cused on ex­plor­ing and car­ry­ing for­ward Shicha­hai's most strik­ing fea­tures through the lay­out and de­sign of the parks.

Dong­gong­fang Pocket Park gets its name from Dong­gong­fang Hu­tong. The 236-m al­ley runs from Di'an­menxi Da­jie in the south to Xinghua Hu­tong in the north. Dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty (1644– 1911), members of the im­pe­rial fam­ily and high-rank­ing of­fi­cials lived in the al­ley, which still has houses fea­tur­ing the tra­di­tional ar­chi­tec­tural style of that era. There is a wall in the pocket park in­scribed with an in­tro­duc­tion to the al­ley's his­tory, and sim­i­larly, Xishiku Pocket Park also in­stalled a bronze sign in­tro­duc­ing the his­tory of Xishiku. Ac­cord­ing to his­tor­i­cal records, Xishiku (lit. west ten ware­houses) was named af­ter 10 im­pe­rial ware­houses built dur­ing the Ming Dy­nasty (1368–1644). On the site of the pocket park, there once stood a ware­house stor­ing items con­fis­cated by the gov­ern­ment. Apart from in­stalling signs to in­tro­duce the lo­cal his­tory and cul­tural back­ground, de­sign­ers demon­strated their own in­ge­nu­ity in the de­tailed de­sign of the parks.

When vis­it­ing Hu­oshen­miao Pocket Park, one can ex­pe­ri­ence its unique de­sign. Al­though the park is small, it con­tains many dif­fer­ent el­e­ments. The 775-sq.m park bor­rows the de­sign of tra­di­tional Chi­nese ships. The park in­stalled over-10-m long benches on ei­ther side of the park, in the style of ship­boards—the wooden benches and deck­ing en­abling visitors to feel as if they are step­ping aboard a ship to enjoy the at­trac­tions along a river. In spring, the nearby Hu­oshen­miao ( The Tem­ple of Fire De­ity) is filled with bloom­ing magnolia and weep­ing for­sythia, cre­at­ing a tra­di­tional Chi­nese land­scape. This de­sign orig­i­nated from the cul­ture of the Grand Canal. Af­ter the Grand Canal was con­nected to Shicha­hai in 1293, the area be­came the ter­mi­nal dock for wa­ter trans­porta­tion in the north of China for 139 years, pro­vid­ing rich his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural her­itage to the area. The de­sign­ers cre­ated the pocket park in­spired by ships to pay homage to the cul­ture of the Grand Canal.

The 850-sq.m Da­honglu­ochang Pocket Park con­tains many his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural el­e­ments. Ac­cord­ing to Rixia ji­uwenkao (a book about Bei­jing's his­tory writ­ten dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty): “The char­coal used in the For­bid­den City's palaces needed to be sawn into dif­fer­ent sizes and placed into small red bas­kets, known as hongluo.” This shows that in an­cient times, the area was used to store hongluo char­coal, hence the name da­honglu­ochang ( lit. Big Hongluo Fac­tory). A land­scape of these red bas­kets was built in the park to re­flect the ori­gin of Da­honglu­ochang. The sub- dis­trict of­fice planned to fo­cus on the green­ing con­cept of “one street and three lo­ca­tions,” ac­cord­ing to the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the lay­out of Da­honglu­ochang. “One street” refers to Da­honglu­ochang, which would be re­stored to re­flect its his­tor­i­cal past; and “three points” refers to the three in­ter­sec­tions be­tween Xisi Bei­da­jie (North Street), Xi­huangchenggen Bei­jie (North Street) and Xishiku Da­jie. Around the in­ter­sec­tions, screens and red bas­kets have been in­stalled to high­light the cul­tural con­no­ta­tions and his­tor­i­cal back­ground of the en­tire street, and a screen struc­ture has been built around the en­trance to Da­honglu­ochang Pocket Park. Screens were im­por­tant parts of Chi­nese fur­ni­ture and in­te­rior dec­o­ra­tion dur­ing an­cient times. As such, they con­tain many cul­tural el­e­ments in terms of their shapes, pat­terns and in­scribed texts, which not only rep­re­sent the re­fined taste of schol­ars but also re­flect peo­ple's wishes for hap­pi­ness. Da­honglu­ochang Pocket Park has the most com­plete fa­cil­i­ties in Shicha­hai. Lo­cal res­i­dents can take a walk in the park among the lilacs, mag­no­lias and be­go­nias, re­lax on the stone seat­ing to chat with one an­other, ex­er­cise us­ing its fit­ness equip­ment and read news­pa­pers posted on the bul­letin boards.

Shicha­hai Sub-dis­trict Of­fice con­tin­ues to ex­pand its green spa­ces. Ac­cord­ing to Liang Fei, over the past two years, idle land greater than 100 sq.m has now been greened. The next step for the sub-dis­trict of­fice is green­ing idle land smaller than 100 sq.m through a num­ber of mea­sures, us­ing things like flower pots and planters. In ad­di­tion, the sub-dis­trict of­fice is en­cour­ag­ing res­i­dents to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for look­ing af­ter the fa­cil­i­ties to help im­prove the en­vi­ron­ment.

A Chi­nese ar­chi­tec­tural el­e­ment in Dong­fushouli Pocket Park

Da­honglu­ochang Pocket Park

A pocket park east of the Hu­oshen Tem­ple

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