The North Bund. It’s like the West Bund, only nothing happens there. Or at least that’s how it felt for the longest time, with minor exceptions like the Zotter Chocolate Theatre and the dubious Shanghai Tobacco Museum. But the same transformation that made Xuhui Riverside Park a refuge for good boys, electric unicyclists, acro-yogis and art fans is now taking place in Hongkou and Yangpu.
The Puxi side of the Huangpu starting at the Qinhuangdao Ferry Terminal, near Banyan Tree Shanghai on the Bund, and continuing east beyond Yangpu Bridge was once an industrial zone home to the Shanghai Shipyard, wool warehouses, the Shanghai Soap Company, China’s first paper mill and the Yangshupu Power Plant, whose 105m tall chimneys still tower over the river.
Now it’s the northeastern section of what will eventually be an unbroken 45km of recreational space for walkers, joggers and cyclists running along both side of the Huangpu — Puxi and Pudong — all the way down to Xupu Bridge at the southern end of the West Bund.
Complementing the open spaces, 66 historic buildings on the Yangpu riverfront have been earmarked for protection and restoration, including the Shanghai Minghua Sugar Plant, which was built in 1913. Already, there are new tennis, basketball and beach volleyball courts, a roller skating rink and a climbing wall.
There are also plans to renovate the 3,000 seat Yangpu Sports Center, build museums of printing, martial arts and industry, and for digital creative industries to move into the northern section of Yangpu’s riverside. For the time being, many of the old industrial buildings are in a gorgeous state of disrepair. Someone shoot a music video out there already.
The development is a big priority for officials at the district, municipal and national level. Xi Jinping visited during the Shanghai Import Export Expo in early November. He went on to do the same on the West Bund, meeting French President Emmanuel Macron for the opening of the brand spanking new Centre Pompidou Shanghai x West Bund Museum project in a huge, boxy building by David Chipperfield, who also did the Rockbund Art Museum.
With its towering orange cranes, the Yangpu riverfront feels a lot like the West Bund did five years ago, before the arrival of major museums and commercial galleries. Already, some cultural assets have been added to the mix in Yangpu too, with a public art project underway along a 5.5km section of the Yangpu riverfront that will see 20 permanent works by major international artists installed by the middle of next year.
Eight of these works, curated by Japanese artist Fram Kitagawa, are already in place. Most striking is Felice Varini’s "Set of Diagonals for Cranes", white stripes planned out at night using a projector and painted during the day. The stripes resolve themselves into an impeccable X-shape when viewed from a certain spot, which has been marked out on the ground for audiences against the artist’s wishes.
Esther Stocker’s "Square Universe" is another simple but effective response to some unusual structures on the Yangpu riverfront. It consists of flat black squares attached to existing white arches. The way the squares overlap the arches’ edges makes the environment seem strangely 2D, evoking the birch trees in Minecraft or an exploding QR code more than anything in everyday meat space.
Other works include: Li Jianhua’s "Extraterrestrial Object", a 20m tall turquoise drip that extends far further into the night sky thanks to a laser beam that shoots out from its tip; Richard Wilson’s "Huangpu Hold", pieces of a 30 year old Shanghai tug-boat attached to a pyramid of steel pipes and painted fire-engine red; and Xu Zhen’s "Mountains", the beards of Sophocles, Hercules, Socrates and Homer taken from classical sculpture, blown up, and installed upside down so as to resemble the karst mountains you see in Yangshuo, as depicted on the 20rmb note.
(Additional public art works have been chosen for execution in Yangpu as part of an open call competition held by SUSAS, the Shanghai Urban Space Art Season. These include a giant helium-filled jellyfish by Xu Guang and an oversized eyeball by Zhong Jie.)
Another Xu Zhen work — and the single best piece to appear during Shanghai Art Week — is showing at MadeIn Gallery on the West Bund until December 31. "Hello" is a big ass classical column, coiled in the room like a serpent, whose empty black face conceals a facial recognition camera. This civilization serpent follows you as you move around the room, perhaps adoringly, perhaps with sinister intent. And, just as commercial galleries such as MadeIn and Arario have set up shop on the West Bund, more are moving into the original Bund. Three blue chip global galleries — Almine Rech, Perrotin and Lisson — are now open in the beautiful three-story Amber Building on Huqiu Lu, across the street from the Rockbund Art Museum.
In addition to the parks and art, Shanghai’s real recreational activity — retail — is being developed on the North Bund. Most of the stores are now open in Sinar Mas Plaza, which consists of: the 320m-tall squashed oblong Tower One, the tallest building in Puxi; the cylindrical Tower 2, which houses the W Shanghai; and shopping that stretches between the two towers descending down to the third floor basement.
Accessed via the International Cruise Terminal Station on Line 12, Sinar Mas Plaza has some quirky entertainment options including the 300-square-meter Miniature World theme park, which depicts historic views of the Bund conceived in partnership with historians from nearby Fudan University. The work features over 15,000 figurines, 500 road vehicles and 300 river vessels. Tickets cost 89rmb for adults and 49rmb for kids.
Currently, construction near the International Cruise Terminal makes cycling or jogging along that section of the riverfront impossible, but there are still some outdoor activities on offer, including Magic Jungle, a high rope course for kids and adults that reaches 30 meters up. Tickets cost 90 to 236rmb.
Good things are happening. To quote from the Shanghai Master Plan 2017-2035, "It is our hope that the future Shanghai is a place where people may jog in the green spaces close to their homes," where drama lovers "may even voice their views about the play" and kids can "play safely without worrying about being scratched or run down by speeding vehicles."