Tianjin / I do like to be beside the riverside

Tianjin is found on the Hai River (literally “Sea River”), a major river of northern China, or rather, a confluence of many waterways, both natural and artificially constructed.  The Hai River – called the ‘mother river’ of Tianjin – is of course, the reason for the city’s being.  Tianjin is the nearest port to Beijing and thus has always been a key centre for trade, within China and internationally.  It is China’s fifth largest city and one of four self-governing city-states.

In most Chinese cities, the river forms the basis for the urban skyline – Shanghai is a great example of this, with the Bund comprising a line of historic stone buildings on one side of the Huangpu, while the crayzy-modern skyscrapers of Pudong stretch along the riverbank on the opposite side.  But, the river itself is mostly functional space, a well-sailed path for the movement of people and goods alike.  Chinese cities just haven’t reach that stage of development where waterside restaurants are more valuable to the economy than barges transporting cement and construction scrap.

Even the buildings sometimes have a strange relationship to the water.  To ensure access to sunlight, there are very strict orientation regulations for residential buildings – meaning that in some cases, buildings present their skinny edge to the best view (a principle that would confound, if not infuriate, even the most open-minded of Australian property developers).

In Tianjin, there has been a huge effort by government to create an accessible and attractive waterfront for the city.  A generous pedestrian and cycle (and occasional motor vehicle, of course) path runs along the water edge, providing a transition from street to water through ramps, stairs and terraces, and jammed full of trees and landscape.  For the sake of comparison, here is what a lot of the Shanghai waterfront looks like.

And jammed full of people too.   You can actually get very close to the water, so that means people end up engaging in all sorts of activity – even if the signs suggest that you shouldn’t.

There is plenty of fishing, as well as the subsequent selling of the catch.

I am sure that in some landscape architect’s mind, these large stone terraces were wondrous places that would accommodate civilised contemplation and conversation … not bright tubs full of undersized fish and distressed turtles.

Nor, taxi drivers washing their hub caps.  Still, as a place of community activity and interaction, it functioned perfectly.

It was heartening to see loads of older people using the spaces along the river.  This guy – 70 years old at least – passed me so quickly on his rollerblades that I didn’t get a chance to take a decent photo.  He had just shouted a few ‘zaos!’ (‘mornings!’) to bunch of people practising their waltzing.

These guys were braving the slightly chilly conditions to go for a dip in the water.  The skinny one was taking his time psyching up to jump in, attracting a crowd (along the river bank and up at street level) who seemed to hand out both encouragement and ridicule.

And there were all the usual tai-chi-ers, sword dancers, head-tappers, backwards-walkers, top-of-the-lungs vocal-exercisers and aimless strollers.  Oh, and guys fixing wooden boats.

At one point, I crossed a bridge to find that the other side of the river was vastly different – a narrow footpath, minimal landscape, buildings pushed back behind a four lane road.  It was a good reminder of what most cities are like along their waterfront and to be thankful that in Tinajin, at least they got it half right.

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3 Responses to Tianjin / I do like to be beside the riverside

  1. bitbot says:

    But doctor, bicycles ARE vehicles.

    …head-tappers, backwards-walkers, top-of-the-lungs vocal-exercisers and aimless strollers – sounds like a fun town!

  2. Pingback: Figuring out the last year … « That Look Crayzy!

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