Chengdu, the capital of Chinese province of Sichuan as well as the world-renowned Sichuan cuisine, is Unesco’s first-ever City of Gastronomy. The city is known for its laidback lifestyle, relaxing teahouse culture, and rich history since it settled along the Jin River 2,300 years ago.
Urban planners and geographers are fascinated by the multilayered urban fabric in Chengdu. The evolution of the city’s history along the Jin River is manifested in the ancient walled royal city, two juxtaposed urban grids from different imperial eras, and the recent addition of a series of vehicular ring roads. The linear sequence of the Jin riverfront chronically correlates with historic events, giving different segments of the river distinct characteristics and wealth of cultural heritage to draw inspiration from.
Strolling along Jin River today, however, the city’s rich heritage and outdoor experience are frequently interrupted by disconnected paths and urban encroachment. As new bridges and roadways expand rapidly to accommodate burgeoning traffic, the riverfront park becomes increasingly narrower and fragmented, with little aquatic vegetation insight or river access for recreation.
Fortunately, thousands of mature trees along the riverbanks protect the riverfront from further urban encroachment and provide much-needed shade and shelter for people and limited urban wildlife. However, three dominant species — Ginkgo biloba, Ficus virens, and Cinnamomum camphora — provide continuous canopy coverage but lack species and spatial diversity.
All trees above 15cm DBH (Diameter at Breast Height) were documented through an onsite survey and nearly all were preserved. Visually permeable, biologically diverse plant communities are to replace homogeneous and dense ground cover.
A new, 7.2 kilometer-long and 6 meters wide greenway that links the previously scattered historic destinations will provide an uninterrupted waterfront experience for pedestrians and cyclists. The greenway maneuvers through the tree bosques and offers a sense of discovery while minimizing the need to transplant existing large trees. It ascends to a skywalk above the dense Ficus tree canopies in areas where there is not enough space for the full 6-meter wide trail. The canopy walk also offers unique and refreshing vistas of the river and the surrounding neighborhoods.
Between the tree bosques and the river, the utilitarian and stark flood walls are re-envisioned in a pragmatic way to build a symbiotic relationship between the river and the riverfront parks. These strategies include creating strong visual and physical access to the water and reestablishing a desperately needed riparian buffer that allows aquatic habitat to support local fauna. Where space is constrained and flood control regulation prevents embankment retreat, a boardwalk system uses the wall as an anchoring structure and transforms it into a mural of the site’s long-buried history.
Wanli Pier, a significant heritage site, is largely deserted and hidden behind the retaining walls. Once unveiled, it will reconnect the bustling nightlife across the street with the river. A new amphitheater reconciles the abrupt elevation changes and overlooks the new subway station plaza across the river. For the first time over several decades, the opposing riverbanks will start to have a spatial, visual, and programmatic dialogue. The new Wanli Pier will be a hub of commercial and cultural programs, public transit, and boat tours on the river.
Large Ficus and Camphor trees on Wanli pier are preserved while strategically retreating the stark floodwalls. The walls protecting the root zones of the existing trees become expressive galleries telling the story of the pier while leading visitors towards the river. Floating wetlands soften the hardscape near the pier.
Upstream from the Wanli Pier, new riparian zones reframe the shallow water into sinuous courses to foster a wide array of microhabitats. Varied water velocity, depth, light level, and vegetation composition reintroduce a healthy aquatic ecosystem to the river. Egrets and other waterfowls will no longer struggle to find a resting area between the vertical walls and the bustling urban life just meters away.
Jin River has witnessed 2,300 years of vibrant urban culture. While traffic and dense development have encroached on the riverfront, it is a pivotal time of history to reinvigorate the public realm along Jin River so it can continue to take the center stage of Chengdu’s cultural expression for centuries to come.
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