With the amazing architecture of the Bund, the awesome skyline of Lu Jia Zuii and the Expo 2010 site, it is probably easy to say that Huangpu River exists as Shanghai’s predominant water body. However, the Huangpu retains it’s industrial soul, Lu Jia Zui is a little too much image, the Bund a little too exclusive and the Expo has an uncertain future after 2010.
Between that an the mighty Chang Jiang and it’s 3000km of accumulated pollution to the north, one may ask…Where is Shanghai’s waterfront?
Possibly a smaller cousin to the Huangpu (they share the same origins at Tai Lake), Suzhou Creek could be where one finds Shanghai’s real waterfront. At 125km, Suzhou Creek is a baby, but it is a predominantly urban baby, slicing right down the East-West axis of Shanghai, emptying out into the Huangpu right in the heart of Shanghai.
This slicing action Within the history of Shanghai, Suzhou creek utilized its slicing action as a geographical boundary, separating the American Concession (on the north bank) from the British Concession (on the south bank) until both Concessions were consolidated into the International Concession in 1863. Suzhou Creek was to perform this role again, acting as a barrier between the Japanese Concession to the north and the International Concession to the south in the 1930’s.
In addition to it’s role as a geographical barrier, Suzhou Creek also acted as an important transportation route into the interior, a role that can still be seen in some of the remaining warehouses and factories that dot it’s shores.
Given it’s desirable location near the CBD and it’s human-scale, it is not unusual that the area has seen the attention of several redevelopment efforts since the early 1990’s.
Time to go see what has been going on. Despite the fact that I can blast Everest Base Camp in 7 days, but only have the legs for five or six kilometres of urban trekking I chose to concentrate on what I like to call lower Suzhou Creek which extends approximately from the mouth of the creek west toward the Nan Bei Elevated Highway. This highway runs south to Tomorrow Square on the West end of People’s Square. It’s kind of arbitrary, but I am a slave to my feet.
While Suzhou creek doesn’t start at Russian consulate, it seems appropriate for me to begin there. Despite how I may feel about Russian consular services, it is hard to argue against their chunk of real-estate and what they have built there.
There is an old art deco Broadway Mansions (Shanghai Da Sha) was originally built as an exclusive residential hotel for the British in 1934 and housed the Foreign Correspondents Club during World War Two.
The Astor House Hotel is to the east of the Broadway and across from the Russian consulate. This building is an old China hand and the first Western hotel to built in China. Constructed in 1846.
It is difficult to escape Lu Jia Zui, but I consider the view from the mouth of Suzhou Creek to be one of the better vantage angles.
The south side of the mouth is a giant mud ridden construction zone and not worth the pixels. Of note though is a development called Bund 33, which is the restoration of the former Consulate General of the United Kingdom into a upscale hotel and the modern interpretation of the adjacent green space.
Because of Bund 33, I wasn’t able to access the south bank, so I wandered up Beijing Dong Lu which runs parallel to the south bank and is home to an interesting mix of restored and dilapidated colonial era buildings. This particular part of Puxi is not as gentrified as areas immediately along the Bund or closer to Nanjing Dong Lu. If there is a ‘working class’ area of the Bund, Beijing Dong Lu is it.
managed to hop back on to Suzhou Creek after a short jaunt up Beijing Dong Lu. This section has seen some work recently, but I remain mixed on the results. The sections along the creek contain a strip of green space and and associated boardwalk which utilizes standard generic Mainland landscape aesthetics found in most cities. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with it as it is clean, functional and contains considerable amounts of shrubbery, yet it represents a fairly large lost opportunity to create a unique design that capitalized on the architectural surroundings and area history. A politically correct design, I suppose.
The buildings are for the most part, clean renovations and mixed use in nature with retail/commercial on the first floor with office/residential above. But a lot of space appears to be empty or not-in-use. The biggest travesty is the presence of a Sino-Pec gas station (to the left). Unbelievable, but to their credit is somewhat hidden.
A strength of the area is the many bridges that cross the creek. Many are European in origin. Clean, smooth lines. This will change sharply as one moves up the river into some more modern interpretations of bridge design. The building is the Shanghai General Post office. Built in 1924, it is now a post office museum. The boardwalk can be seen in the left of the photo.
Looking back down Suzhou Creek toward the mouth.
Looking up Suzhou Creek toward Tomorrow Square (the pointed skyscraper in the center).
Urban farming along the shores of Suzhou Creek (south side).
North side redevelopments. Apparently some of the first plans to address issues along Suzhou creek during the early 1990’s began with the demolition of colonial warehouses and factories and replacement with uninspired slab housing built directly abutting the creek. Later plans in the early 00’s recognized the importance of heritage buildings but unfortunately, not many remain.
One such lucky heritage building is this handsome fellow here. Initially, he looks like another reincarnation of the infamous nail house and slated for a similar fate to the buildings that once sat on top of the adjacent parking lot.
It is however, the remnants of the Si Hang Warehouse and the site of a Chinese victory over the Japanese in the opening weeks of the Battle of Shanghai in 1937.
Part 2 tomorrow.