New Bund wins good reviews from visitors
The curtains drew back on Shanghai's front window yesterday when the city's best-known landmark, the Bund, reopened after a refit costing billions of yuan.
The iconic strip of colonial buildings has been a chaotic construction site for nearly three years as part of the city's immense development drive ahead of the World Expo, due to open on May 1, but yesterday it was mobbed by nostalgic locals and wide-eyed tourists.
'It's awesome. This is an awesome city,' one visitor from the US state of Nebraska said. 'We're here on a business trip and we had just one day left for sightseeing, and I'm just amazed. I'd never even heard of this place before.'
Even the weather - a highly unpredictable factor in recent weeks - decided to co-operate, as the riverfront promenade was bathed in glorious spring sunshine.
The riverfront promenade is now 40 per cent wider than before, and extended by almost a kilometre southwards to 2.6 kilometres in length. New fountains, floral displays and seating areas now line the stretch between the raised walkway and Zhongshan East Road, although the precinct's extensive shopping areas remain empty.
The four billion yuan (HK$4.54 billion) project involved digging a 3.3 kilometre double-deck tunnel to divert most vehicle traffic underground.
But not every hint of the past has been erased. The new-look Bund has kept at least one thing which earned it a fond place in locals' hearts - a section of low wall known as the lovers' wall.
Speaking at a press conference last week, however, officials were keen to stress that this was an attempt to preserve the area's community memory, and was not intended to condone illicit behaviour.
Along the widened riverfront walkway, visitors numbered in their tens of thousands. Officials claimed last week the new park would accommodate more than one million visitors per day, and it appeared to have been given a thorough test.
Everywhere was packed with visitors, keen to have their photos taken against the grand row of colonial structures or the shining towers of glass and steel in the financial district across the river in Pudong.
Feng Yuehong, a 70-year-old Shanghai pensioner, posed with his two-year-old granddaughter on one of the area's brand-new fleet of electric cleaning vehicles.
'It's nice to see the place open at last,' he said. 'My wife and I used to come here every day after work so we felt we had to take a look on the first day it reopened.
'I like the new look. It feels comfortable and very clean. It's much wider and there are a lot more open spaces for people to walk.'
The only obvious source of stress was around vans selling drinks at bargain-basement prices - just three yuan for a bottle of name-brand soft-drinks. Around lunchtime, they were so overwhelmed with thirsty tourists they were having trouble handling the demand.
Vehicle traffic was noticeably reduced along the street after the opening of the road tunnel designed to handle the majority of medium-sized cars travelling along the important north-south corridor.
But with the thoroughfare shrunk from 11 lanes to just six, the remaining traffic was only a little safer for pedestrians.
'I'm generally happy with the park, but do think it would have been better with some pedestrian bridges or subways,' Ma Jingming, a Shanghai retiree who was trying to get home after riding his unicycle on the waterfront, said. 'They have really improved the promenade - I think it could easily accommodate twice as many people as today - but when you come back down to the road I think it is still a bit chaotic and dangerous.
'There is a very long wait at the crossings, and I think that could be a problem when there are high numbers of visitors.'
The Bund's massive redevelopment project represents just a tiny fraction of the city's preparations for the six-month World Expo.
The mainland's biggest international event since the Beijing Olympics in 2008 is expected to draw upwards of 70 million visitors, and the municipal government is pulling out all stops to show off the city as vibrant and modern.
The expo's budget is already estimated to be twice that of the Olympics and has involved a massive drive to upgrade the city's transport network and other infrastructure. But Shanghai has rejected plans for a massive opening extravaganza featuring performances spanning the Huangpu River.
As probably the city's most famous attraction, the Bund is playing its part in promoting the event. A large, temporary stage has also been erected for use in celebrations to mark the one-month countdown to the expo tomorrow night.
But the view did not win over everybody who visited yesterday.
'It's just a river,' Liu Jinwei, a visitor from Suzhou , Jiangsu province, said. 'I think it's nice, but nothing so amazing as I'd expected. There are too many people.'
Walk in the park
Officials say the new Bund park can accommodate this many visitors per day: 1m