New York has Central Park. Paris has the Jardin du Luxembourg. Shanghai has the Corniche.
Often overlooked, the Corniche sits on the Huangpu River west of the tourist throngs on the Bund. Go on any morning and you’re likely to see more dogs and kite runners than tourists. Of course Shanghai has its green spaces, but this one is different. Built in the dizzying preparations for the 2010 World Expo, the park takes a page out of New York’s Highline development. Rather than raze and destroy, the Corniche Development Group repurposed the existing landscape. It incorporates the overgrown tracks from the defunct Shanghai/Hangzhou Railroad into an urban forest. Windmills generate energy for the park, a plus for boarders at the Corniche’s skate ramps, basketball junkies or some seriously professional climbers on the rock walls.
Now this is a huge step in the greening of Shanghai’s urban landscape. By greening, I’m not just talking about planting a few trees. I suppose one has to live in China to understand, but parks here are much different than those elsewhere. Parks are mostly concrete squares. Any grass areas are off limits as stepping on grass “can hurt its feelings”. Not at the Corniche. All areas are open for play and relaxation. In a dog-phobic city like Shanghai, the park is even open for four-legged friends to roam free without being chased off by security guards. Dare I say it? The park even seems to have been developed with actual people in mind.
This shift in mentality is probably the most interesting part of the new park. The developers and government officials haven’t touted the Corniche as a new place for hordes of tour buses to come to, or major retailers to set up shop. Dubbed officially the “Shanghai Xuhui Public Open Space”, it continues to attract groups more interested in yoga or parkour than Fendi or Gucci. For a city so devoutly capitalistic, a reprieve for the non-believer is a true sanctuary.