There are a lot of parks Shenzhen and locals use them extensively: after work and weekends many of the residents go to have a walk, jog, do Tai Chi or exercise there. In my opinion there parks are among the attractions in the city. Furthermore, they may be the reason why the air quality of Shenzhen is much better than in other cities in China (which many people tell me is very important and one of the main good qualities of Shenzhen).
Over the last few weeks I visited a few parks in the city and I have noticed similarities among them. Comparing it to the parks in the United States I found them very different. They are generally more develop: while there are areas in the parks where people can leave the concrete walkways, gathering places or exercise areas, I have the impression that the expectation is that people stay on the paths designed and created for them. I came across very few natural or user-created paths. I am not trying to judge this way of park development, it is an impression I have. It may be a good strategy: perhaps with this intense use the natural environment would degrade if it was used directly by this amount of people. I also learned that the grass used here in not native so it is very sensitive to trampling. By talking to people I have the impression that Chinese people are used to stay on the concrete pathways and do not have much desire to step on the soil. (When I explained how in some American parks you can enjoy nature more directly I received strange looks).
While the parks are developed I found a lot of amenities in the parks in Shenzhen, and some of these are generally not part of the park environment in the USA. One of these things is the exercise equipment of different kinds (see images) that of course anyone can use, free of charge. The equipment is very well used and I found them in almost all parks, even small ones. There are also a lot of places to sit in the parks: benches and similar sitting features are available all around the park. While American parks have benches here and there, the parks here have an abundance of them. Another thing that is found in almost all parks and that is water. It is generally in the form of an artificial lake, but it can also be just a river that runs through the park. A bridge (or more) over the lake also belongs to this landscape. According to me of my Chinese friends the reason for the water in the parks is the concept of Feng Shui, but I wasn’t able to verify this information. Another source told me people just value water a lot in China. People on hot days boat or paddle around in the water (see image) and usually fishing is allowed too; I saw people go into the water with nets after dark. Many parks also have an impressive gate for its main entrance and a pavilion or more located around the park (see image), which generally follows a style. They provide coverage against sun or rain, and sitting area for the visitors.
The man-made paths I mentioned earlier are created in different width and made of concrete or durable stones (the one on the picture I found similar in many parks). The parks are full of these paths and when they are leading to higher elevation stairs are created (see images).
As far as getting around in the parks there are maps at the entrances, and generally the parks are well equipped with signage that is easy to follow. The signs are generally only in Chinese, but the last park I went to (Buji Park) surprised me with English signage. (This is unusual because in some places, even in museums, that is not a commonplace in Shenzhen.) One of the other physical features of the parks is the presence of recycling bins, which are not always part of the general street design. Some parks also contain statues, relics and even small museums.
The parks in Shenzhen are very well maintained, it shows that a lot of energy (and money) are invested into these areas. They are also well used by the public; people are not afraid (and used to) share the space. Chinese people are comfortable playing and rehearsing music, singing, dancing and doing exercises in public.
In my impression parks here have more of an entertainment aspect here than “just” being close to nature and enjoying it. Many parks have public art and some even have go-carts or marry-go-rounds for the kids on site. At the same time, just being in the green environment helps people to escape the heat of the summer that can be really intense in Shenzhen. You can feel that you are close to the park by the temperature of the air.
What do I miss in the parks here? One is the drinking fountains and the other is the mentioned direct experience of nature. I wonder what the experience is someone in China visiting a park like Forest Park in Portland, which is created to offer solitude and the direct experience of nature.