I first visiting Da Ning about a week ago and I was quite impressed with what I saw and noted that I needed to go back to take a closer look at what was going on there.
It would be stretch to state that this is a fantastic space. It’s somewhat isolated, and while it is terribly far from the metro, it is far enough a walk to to make you think otherwise. Most of the businesses are chains and have other, more convenient locations and I didn’t see any original signature establishments. It doesn’t blend as well with the surrounding fabric as well other ‘life’ areas of Shanghai. It’s borders are pronounced and highly visible which creates a slight ‘destination’ feel to the place. Contrast that to the French Concession where one can just wander and randomly discover interesting streets, neighbourhoods etc.
Da Ning wins in regards to it’s human scale, and that is probably why I felt compelled enough to mention it. It’s just a bit different than your standard affordable Mainland lifestyle district. It’s not overwhelming with neon flare, the promenades are compact, busy and offer a mazy feel, the buildings are not designed in an over-the-top manner and the internal shared pedestrian/automobile street network combined with a good courtyard system creates a very permeable and sociable space. That doesn’t necessarily make it unique, but many comparable spaces I’ve seen in China that offer similar characteristics are quite often restored and gentrified old hutongs, factories, litongs, shikumen or other traditional neighbourhood forms. Da Ning was built from scratch and in a accessible fashion…and by that I referring the price exclusivity of some of Shanghai’s more notable areas (Cool Docks, Xintiandi and The New Factories, I’m looking directly at you). You don’t need to be on a expat package to hang-out @ this place.
Like most spaces in Shanghai, Da Ning is much nicer during the evening. That is not just from a photographic perspective (dominance of flat light, too many greys) but the place is far livelier at night. The temperature is bearable, the patios are full, the night lights are out and it seems to be a more relaxed place. Don’t be expecting any night-life action in terms of bars/clubs though.
(Eastern edge of Da Ning – abandoned stadium and busy 4-lane street)