Public and Private Space in Chongqing: Yubei District

Private space in our housing community

My intent is for this to be the first of a series of posts on the topic of public and private space in an evolving Chongqing. Much to our surprise, informal polling of the planners at CAUPD conducted by one of the Team Leaders suggests that after traffic congestion, the lack of public space is the top concern. Why were we surprised? Click the link below and continue reading to find out.

The map below shows our daily walk to and from work.

You will probably notice that there are four parks or gardens along our 2.4 km (1.5 mile) walk to work, all of which are open to the public (From South to North: Sports Park, Dongbu Park, Yangjia Garden, and the Bolin Reservoir with its trails). Beyond this, just north of Bolin Reservoir is Bailin Park with its large public plaza, obelisk, and massive fountain. East of Yangjia Garden is Jiulonghu (Dragon Lake) which is surrounded by trails, the Xingguang Hotel with its large reflection pool and public plaza where couples dance on Saturday nights and the pedestrian street next to our housing community. Near the office, there is a plaza that serves as a conduit for traffic to work lined with many shops, restaurants, and even a cafe. And this only accounts for designated public space.

The sidewalks near our office transformed into outdoor dining for lunch

One of many bus stops with food carts for a quick bite while waiting to ride or on the way to work

Even with all these planned spaces, improvised public space is abundant. The pictures above shows one of many sidewalk food stands for workers in the business area of Yubei District (top) and a common bus stop in the morning with food and often a truck selling snacks and sundries. Workers from our building and the IT park next door swarm to these little stands for a change from the fare offered by the two cafeteria restaurants just down the stairs from here. It is not uncommon to see people selling fruit along sidewalks and mahjong games on tables thrown up pretty much anywhere and everywhere. So what’s the problem?

As I see it, with my 1.5 weeks’ experience, there are two problems: (1) Our area may be atypical of Chongqing, and (2) The rise of the housing community with private gardens has resulted in little focus or expenditure on new public space in residential areas. Regarding the first point, the map below shows an area of Jiangbei District stretching along the Jialing River to the south of Yubei. While there are a few green dots, public green space of the size and frequency we have in Yubei are very rare. It remains to be seen whether these areas possess other forms of designated non-green and improvised public space we will find there.

The second issue is the prevalence of housing communities with private gardens. The images below show the private gardens of our community (Shangyuan Impression) and the one across the street. As you can see, these are large, well-designed, and well-utilized gardens enclosed by formidable fences manned by security guards. In the mornings and evenings our gardens are filled with people. The sounds of children playing and parents chatting mix with the loud chirping of crickets and the croaking of toads from the ponds and channels that meander through the gardens. (During certain hours of the day, add the splashing of people in the community pool!) As we have learned in the West, the downside of such a closed model of residential living is a separation between the socializing of those living inside each community and those locked out. As older communities age (maintenance is typically poor for new developments in China) and new communities with increasingly luxurious features are built, its seems likely that income disparities will grow between the residents of different housing communities within the same neighborhood.

View into the private gardens of a housing community in Yubei

The gate to our housing community’s private gardens

Water features in our private garden

Finally, the Team Leader suggested that people in Chongqing seem to have a need for public space compared to people in Beijing or other cities. Why this would be is hard to say at present, but an interesting idea worth further discussion in later posts. Keep an eye out for posts on this subject as we explore other districts and carry out research comparing quality of life in different neighborhoods throughout Chongqing. As a preview of what public space looks like and how it is utilized in other parts of the city, enjoy the video below showing the plaza at Dadi School in downtown Chongqing where groups of women enjoy dancing on Saturday nights.

Women dancing at night at the Dadi School, Chongqing (China) from Derek Dauphin on Vimeo.

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