People & City
SHENZHEN BAY: CONNECTING HUMANS WITH NATURE
In the past four decades, when Shenzhen developed rapidly, the creative design industry triggered diversified practices and discussions, which could be felt from urban planning to industrial restructuring, from industry standards to product design. The columns of this issue are composed of three parts, which unfold around sustainable urban development from three different perspectives: people and nature, design and life, and the future of urban transportation. Taking into accountpolicy, planning, design, communication, social response, and other aspects of city development, these columns offer a detailed account of the creative ideas put forth by those professional designers and planners, the possibilities that arose from the implementation of such ideas, and the teams and individuals that were touched and inspired by reality. Besides, economic experts and entrepreneurs engaged in architectural planning were invited to have constructive dialogues about the experiences in and feasible solutions to the sustainable and coordinated development of cities from such domains as policy support, legislation, and corporate practice. In the meantime, discussions also took place on how enterprises should expedite green and low-carbon urban development in practice, and the experiences and practices of world-class cities were cited for reference and reflection. We hope that different cases on display will jointly produce a link between the past and the future, lead to a progressive transition from society to individuals, from experiences to visions, and sketch out all the attempts Shenzhen has made to build itself into an eco-friendly, livable city dedicated to sustainable development. These efforts and explorations altogether constitute the city’s practice in and contribution to the concept of ‘sustainable development’.
Futian Mangrove National Nature Reserve Photo credit: Visual China Group
The planning and design of Shenzhen Bay Park, which started over a decade ago, focuses on the conservation of the ecological environment while providinga coastal lifestyle for future citizens. Such an aspiration and motive have set the tone for the urban value and role of Shenzhen Bay, in both the natural ecosystem and public life. Meticulously working out the right amount of land reclamation, seamlessly connecting natural space with artificial parks, and satisfying demands of both individuals and the masses as a whole, the Park’s overall planning and construction have expressed Shenzhen’s attitude and showcased its standards in a coastalera, linked and expanded the public life, and achieved human-nature symbiosis. Nowadays, Shenzhen Bay Park not only attracts an increasing number of citizens, but has also become a must- visit and preferred choice for tourists visiting Shenzhen. From October to early spring next year, Shenzhen Bay Park is serving as an important staging post for tens of thousands of migratory birds. Here, people can truly enjoy a harmonious co-existence of humans, the city and nature.
Wild birds at Mangrove National Nature Reserve Photo credit: Visual China Group
At the same time, Shenzhen Bay Park and its associated overall urban park system have unleashed the potential of this hinterland as the city’s powerhouse. Over the past decade, crucial projects surrounding Shenzhen Bay such as Houhai Central District, Shenzhen Bay Super Headquarters Base, OCT HappyCoast, Dashahe Park, and Central River Park have all benefited, directly or indirectly, from the construction of Shenzhen Bay Park – demonstrating the value and future of Shenzhen Bay.
After more than a decade of design and construction, this artificial seashore, spanning over ten kilometers, has become a coastal corridor strip filled with visitors, turning the edge of the city into a vibrant public space, with the habitat of birds and mangroves evolving into an excellent spot to connect with nature. The Vision Shenzhen Bay, also known as Deep Bay, is a typical estuary on the eastcoast of the Pearl River. The Bay covers a water area of nearly 100 square kilometers, with a coastline of roughly 40 kilometers. The inflow of fresh water from Shenzhen River, Dashahe andXiaoshahe yields an estuarine ecological environment in Shenzhen Bay. As one of the bays shared by Shenzhen and Hong Kong, Shenzhen Bay was oncebestowed with long beaches, rolling hills and rich marine and terrestrial animal and plant resources. Today, it is still home to a world-class mangrove wetland (now part of Mai Po Nature Reserve in Hong Kong, which has been listed in the Ramsar Convention, with a total area of 15 square kilometers) and China’s smallest (3.7 square kilometers) and only national forest and wildlifenatural reserve located in the hinterland of the city – Futian Mangrove National Nature Reserve. The unique ecological environment of Shenzhen Bay not only makes it an important migration and wintering ground for migratory birds around the world, but also a habitat for twenty-three endangered species, including black-faced spoonbill.
Southward migrating birds at Shenzhen Bay in winter Photo: Huang Jing
Since China’s reform and opening up, and the rapid expansion of the city, the once meandering natural shoreline was gradually replaced by Expressways and artificial masonry coastline. Worse still, despite being the bay closest to the urban area, Shenzhen Bay’s seemingly ever-ongoing constructionhas blown itself out of proportion whentalking about Shenzhen as a coastal city, leaving Dapeng Peninsula (in the far eastern suburbs) the only ocean-related impression that people have of Shenzhen. At the end of 2003, with the land reclamation of the Hong Kong- Shenzhen Western Corridor nearing completion, a new city coastline gradually revealed itself. Led by the Shenzhen Bureau of Urban Planning and Land Administration, Urban Administration and Law Enforcement Bureau of Shenzhen Municipality, and Public Works Bureau of Shenzhen Municipality, the planning and design of Shenzhen Bay Park was also put on the agenda. Jointly proposed by the China Academy of Urban Planning & Design Shenzhen and SWA Group, a solution featuring "connectivity" and "bay" was adopted, and its corresponding planning process, which lasted for over a decade, was set in motion.
Futian Mangrove National Nature Reserve Photo credit: Visual China Group
Balance and Co-existence
The biggest challenge in the design of Shenzhen Bay Park was the conservation of the ecosystem in thebay area. How can a balance be struck between conserving the sensitive and fragile ecological environment and providing Shenzhen citizens with a coastal public space that they have long been yearning for? The final design of Shenzhen Bay Park prioritizes the preservation of natural systems, including the biosphere of birds and mangroves. Public spaces for human activities are deliberately scattered, the types of activities allowed in the Bay area are limited, and human activities are restricted to places far away from the central mangrove locations crucial to the survival of birds, so that the impact of human activities on the wetland ecosystem in the Bay area are limited and diminished.
With the Shenzhen Bird Watching Society joining in the discussion on the overall layout and functional setup of Shenzhen Bay Park, large areas of intertidal mudflats have ultimately been preserved for benthic plants and animals to grow in and for birds to forage in. This has helped to achieve a harmonious co-existence and common prosperity for humans and birds, aswell as city and nature, while setting a clearer urban boundary for Shenzhen. Also getting involved in the park’s design process were a group of hydrodynamic engineers who built a large-scale hydraulic model to simulate the influence of different shapes and scales of artificial shorelines on the water flow of the bay area. In the light of scientific results and with overall costs taken into consideration, reclamation areas have been greatly reduced and the shoreline has been altered, so that the original coastline isbetter preserved, utilized and refined, resulting in less artificial space that the planners dream of, but more care and love for nature. It is safe to say that while the boundary has shrunk, civilization has truly been expanded.
Futian Mangrove National Nature Reserve Photo credit: Visual China Group
Multi-dimensional and Extensive Connectivity
In addition to fully conserving the ecosystem, Shenzhen Bay has another important mission – serving as a public space for Shenzhen citizens to experience a coastal lifestyle, and asan urban stage that the citizens are proud of. After its release, the planning and designing scheme had been on a one-month public display, during which the thoughts and demands of the citizens were collected. Furthermore, through role-play simulations, the expectations that citizens and tourists have of Shenzhen Bay Parkwere fully understood and taken into consideration in the final design. For example, discussions with Shenzhen Bicycle Association and cycling enthusiasts on their cycling habits have led to a bikeway with two sets ofbicycle lanes, fast and slow, running along the coast. Now, after seeing aconstant stream of visitors hanging out in Shenzhen Bay, everyone who participated in its design process feels gratified. The planners "vision and the citizens" collective demands have allbeen realized. "Connectivity" is not only a design theme that Shenzhen Bay sticks to until the end, but also a specific goal of space design, and an ideal state of relations among nature, society and humanity. "Connectivity" has become a language and a way of communication.
Cycling and running lanes in Shenzhen Bay Park Photo: Meng Xiangyuan
Through first renovating and upgrading the overpasses and underpasses in order to reconnect the once isolated Shenzhen Bay area enclosed by expressways, this coastal area has become more accessible and better situated to host public activities, which has met and even exceeded people’s expectations of what a coastal city should be like. As a result, Shenzhen Bay has transformed itself from a place with marginal irrelevancy into one with a central role in people’s minds and in terms of urban functions. Thus, physical connectivity has changed people’s perception, and consequently expanded social connections. With more and more public events such as the "100-km Walk Across Shenzhen" and "Measuring China – Coastline Hiking" taking place here, Shenzhen Bay Park has become an indispensable part of the city. From then on, the Park has truly become the coastal space nearest to the downtown area, allowing citizens and visitors to get close to the Bay, get in touch with nature and relax. It will permanently remain a crucial part of Shenzhen and in the lives of Shenzhen citizens.
Shenzhen Bay: attraction for birdwatching 1. Photo credit: Visual China Group 2. Photo: Huang Jing
Strolling along Shenzhen Bay from East to West, one will pass by the memorial park for the 19th International Botanical Congress in Futian Mangrove Ecological Park (Note 1); the OCT Wetland Park (Note 2), and China’s first national nature education school in the Wetland Park (Note 3), which all echo the winding Shenzhen Bay Park. In the ideal vision of Shenzhen as "a city of one thousand parks", Shenzhen Bay is the area closest to nature and to the concept of Green.
From the government’s decision to change the plan and move Binhai Avenue to the north in order to protect the precious mangroves, to the proposal of building Shenzhen Bay Parkto protect the estuarine wetlands and the ecological environment, Shenzhen is constantly revising and upgrading its course of growth. The construction of acity is also an undertaking of striving to meet the needs and aspirations of the citizens.
The past ten years of planning, design and construction featuring"connectivity", "boundary" and "cycle" have come to an end. From the initial plan and vision to the final public experience, I, as a participant, feel very gratified. And I wish an even better decade for this city to come.
Observation Deck at Zone C of Shenzhen Bay Park Photo credit: Visual China Group
Note 1 Memorial Park for the 19th International Botanical Congress
In 2017, the International Botanical Congress (IBC) was held in China for the first time. Shenzhen, as the host city, issued the Shenzhen Declaration on Plant Sciences which was endorsed by a resolution and adopted at the Closing Ceremony. The declaration serves as a guideline for future development of plant sciences, calling for actions on social, economic and other major issues concerning plants. In order to commemorate the hosting of IBC, theonly conference boasting a long historyof interdisciplinary, multi-disciplinary and comprehensive exchange on plant sciences, a memorial park with a total area of 45,000 square meters, featuring an entrance plaza, a lineargrandstand, a circular platform, alookout, a bird-watching house, a nature-observation path, and a pedestrian promenade was built in Shenzhen Bay. Guided by its Scientific Advisory Board, the park, from a professional and scientific point of view and with a forward-looking attitude, has plannedto carry out a 100-year fixed-position ecological science experiment through long-term and continuous observationsand recording, and to enlighten the young generations by providing them with multi-dimensional platforms. The proposed yet continuously optimized operation mode of the park echoes the principles and connotation of the Shenzhen Declaration on Plant Sciences, thus qualifying itself as a sustainable development mode.
Activities at IBC Memorial Park and MCF Photo: Turenscape
Note 2 OCT Wetland Park
Overseas Chinese Town (OCT) National Wetland Park in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, is an intertidal flat resulting from the reclamation of Shenzhen Bay in the 1990s. In 2007, OCT Group took over OCT wetland from the municipal government and became the first enterprise entrusted to manage an urban wetland. Directed by the principle of "protect, restore and upgrade", OCT Group carried out a five- year comprehensive treatment on the wetland, writing Shenzhen’s ecological civilization development history in theprocess of wetland restoration. Not onlyhave the watch houses and sentry posts been retained, but also have the original coastline features and the mangroves. With the innovative management idea of "returning a natural state to nature", OCT group preserves the eco-environment in a non-killing way that is different from managing a landscape garden. As a result, a total of 175 bird species and 369 vegetation species have been recorded so far – more than double compared with the records before the ecological restoration began in 2007. OCT wetland in the raw provides a habitat for over 800 species of animals and plants in a highly developed international city, making itself a natural sanctuary in Shenzhen Bay. Since 2012, OCT wetland has been opening to the public by appointment free of charge. This "humanistic care" has touched the visitors, soon making the wetland China’s only coastal mangrove wetland in the hinterland of a metropolis that integrates the functions of wetland experience, ecological protection and the popularization of science. At the end of 2016, it was approved by the State Forestry Administration and became the smallest National Wetland Park in China and the first National Wetland Park in Shenzhen. OCT wetland is connected to the water in Shenzhen Bay, with the two sharing common biological resources. It is an important part of the coastal wetland ecosystem in Shenzhen Bay, and one of the most important transit spots for migratory birds around the world.
Wetland mudflat and Birdwatching house ©️OCT Wetland Park (Shenzhen)
Note 3 China’s First National Nature Education School Guided by the principle of "one classroom, one set of textbooks, and one group of volunteer teachers", OCT Wetland embarked on its journey of setting up Shenzhen’s first nature school, and in 2014, the first nature education school of China was foundedin OCT wetland. Rich natural resources, historical sentry posts and the newly-built ecological exhibition hall have provided a "nature classroom" for visitors. The Nature School has developed 34 sets of diversified courses and 116 activity programs for people of different ages to learn and participate in in different seasons. Moreover, important environmental commemoration activities such as "World Wetland Day", "World Environment Day", "World Earth Day" and "Bird Love Week" are held all year round. With the rich natural resources and unique environment of the wetland, the nature school teaches and spreads the wisdom of nature to citizens through free-of-charge public classes and programs on special topics, and engages more people in the action of wetland protection through interacting and connecting with other non-profit organizations.
Children learning about the nature through various activities ©️OCT Wetland Park (Shenzhen)
Text / Liang Hao Senior Urban Planner Director of Landscape Design and Planning of Shenzhen Bay Park Director of Urban Design for Houhai Central Area, Nanshan District