By ACC Delen
Winter is about to end in the Middle Kingdom. Though it is still chilly outside and people still leave their houses in bubble jackets and winter boots, gardeners nevertheless have already started turning the soil, pulling out wayward weeds, and generally getting their patches ready for planting. Cherry flowers are slowly pushing their way through the once bare branches. Most of all, more and more people are going out and taking advantage of Shanghai’s many green spaces, getting in as much physical exercise as they can, yours truly included.
This brings us to an oft taken for granted feature of Shanghai. The city being the “commercial’ capital of China, one naturally expects sky scrapers and it is exactly what one gets. The Pearl Tower which for the longest time has dominated the city’s skyline is now flanked by Jinmao Tower and the Shanghai Financial Tower. Accompanying these three tallest of the tallest are masses of other high rises which could easily make one forget that despite its modern and highly developed façade, Shanghai has dedicated areas for green spaces that range from acres to square meters. These green spaces are not just showcases meant to delight the eyes of tourists and locals alike but are actually used on a daily basis. The best part? Many of these spaces are PUBLIC areas.
Almost every neighborhood in the city has an area where its residents can congregate, socialize, exercise, or all of the above. Some, are actual parks surrounded by walls and landscaped with trees, grasses, flowers and the ever-present body of water which could be either as big as a lake or as small as a pond. Others, are just the size of an empty lot that was planted with perennials and dotted with concrete benches for people to sit and rest after several rounds on the walking/jogging path that’s almost always present in these areas. These spaces are open to everyone and except for the massive parks like Century Park or the Botanical Garden which have entrance fees, the others are completely free and yet are very well maintained. This being so, people are motivated to patronize these spaces.
Unlike the idea I grew up with, where a park is visited only on certain occasions like perhaps a picnic or even a date, public parks here are part of daily life. Mornings see people jogging, walking, practicing Tai Chi, or exercising. The last part is due to the fact that incorporated within these spaces are exercise equipment that may not be as fancy as the one in the gym but nevertheless do the job. In the evenings, the same spaces get utilized for dancing by locals who sway to the melody of traditional Chinese music that is sometimes interspersed with a more modern version. In between, the parks are visited by residents who simply want a breath of air, perhaps commune with nature, or simply to get away from the confines of their apartments.
These spaces were especially helpful during this year’s Lunar New Year break. With most shops closed for the holidays and people strongly encouraged not to travel outside of the city; parks offered a place to rejuvenate and do something active. And as the weather grows warmer, the appeal gets stronger as well, as shown by the number of people I’ve met the last time I went walking through our neighborhood park.
Parks are indeed features that can easily be overlooked especially with everything else that is offered by this vibrant city. Nevertheless, for people who live here, it’s a place to escape to. One only has to go to the nearest park to see how important these spaces are. For me who had to walk by the side of the road when I needed to exercise back home, the public green spaces of Shanghai, big or small, hold a special place. **