Shanghai Spaces: Wu Jiao Chang 五角场 – A classic Mainland commercial centre

By Bryan • china, shanghai, urban planning • 27 Jul 2009

There isn’t much happening around Fudan University.  I wouldn’t regard the place as quite the ‘sticks’ but its far enough out and it’s present poor urban rail connection makes is rather isolated from the rest of Shanghai.  Line 3 is walkable, but it’s not something one wants to do more than once a day…never if it is hot.  The bus can get you around…but really, an area is not truly connected in a city the size of Shanghai unless it has rail running through it.  There are the standard businesses that sprout around Chinese universities…noodle joints, milk tea places, a few tea houses, some decent restaurants…piles of Korean places and the odd dive bar.  The fantastic western deli “Chartres” across from the Foreign Students Dormitory is good find.

Aesthetically…meh.  Predominately residential in nature, the area has a lot of super-block residential spaces (xiao qu) and one can walk for blocks without really running into anything interesting, just row after row of slab architecture. The fact that there are several universities in the area doesn’t help with the permeability.  Chinese universities generally only have a few entrances, so one might have to walk considerable distances to get around them if one is going somewhere else.

IMGP0038There is, however, Wu Jiao Chang.  Wu Jiao Chang is about a 5-10 minute walk from the east gate of Fudan and is striving to become the commercial hub of the area.  I recall it once being referred to as the “next Xu Jia Hui”.  Xu Jia Hui, is south of the French Concession and is a large commercial district focused around the intersection of two major roads and hosts a stop on Metro Line 1.  I’m not familiar with the history of Xu Jia Hui, but the place is one big…very big consumer Mecca.  Wu Jiao Chang is apparently an attempt to realize that one the north side of Shanghai.  Results have been mixed.

Generally, there isn’t anything remarkable about Wu Jiao Chang.  It is a typical large “any-city”  Chinese commercial area.  The North American equivalent would probably be the suburban power centre.  I decided to mention it because it is a great example of this kind of urban entity in China, and I go there quite often because it is in walking distance of the university and provides somewhat of an alternative when the fare bordering the walls of Fudan gets stale.

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That’s Wu Jiao Chang coming in from the north.  Yeah, it’s a bit busy, I know.  There is a giant traffic circle toward the end of the image as well as a through traffic tunnel under the blue road sign.  WJC is actually four quadrants centered on the traffic circle.  Presently, only three of the four quadrants is operating due to metro construction.

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Internally, Wu Jiao Chang displays the classic Chinese shopping promenade flanked by department stores with food services on the first floor. Grey is the to-go-to colour scheme and there is little to break open space in terms of greenery. Wide, long and open.  Cram the people.  Maximum capacity.  These are the words.  Contrast that to the internal features of Da Ning and you probably realize why I find Da Ning quite interesting as Chinese space.

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In performing those functions, Wu Jiao Chang is very effective.  The place is packed on the weekend with line ups for most of the food establishments…good luck finding a coffee at one of the two Starbucks.

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WJC has a substantial underground component, however, as Sarah mentioned, each underground quarter fails to connected with one another, creating a rather large walk from one quarter to the next.

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This walk, however, will take shoppers through probably the most unique thing about WJC.  The open-air traffic circle.  Hovering above the traffic circle like some kind of UFO (it lights up at night) landmark, but it is what is under it that is slightly interesting.  It is hard to tell from the photos but the internal area of the traffic circle is actually accessible public space.  In order to get from one WJC quarter to the other, one will need to through this human traffic circle.

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The pedestrian circle actually contains a map of the area etched into the ground work.  Just in case you don’t know where you are, you can walk over your home.

The prospects for WJC are will probably increase with the completion of Line 17 making it far better connected to the rest of the city, but it still is what it is.  A great example of a typical Chinese power centre.  It even has a Wal-Mart.

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