Rewriting history: The redevelopment of Shanghai’s iconic Suzhou Creek

Suzhou Creek was once a historically important trade and shipping route. Pic: chuyuss/Shutterstock

RUNNING from the northern end of The Bund towards Suzhou city, Wusong River or Suzhou Creek (as the local expats call it) in Shanghai was once a historically important trade and shipping route in the 1600s.

Unfortunately since the 1920s, due to the rise of urban population, waste and spills from boats, sewage issues along with industrialization, the Creek suffered from severe pollution that threatened the health and well-being of over 3 million people living in that area.

Nicknamed the “Black Stink”, the Creek was in a dire and derelict state for many years. It was only in 1996 that the Shanghai Municipal Government and ADB stepped up to clean up the Creek and started a 12-year massive rehabilitation project to transform the riverbank.

Today, Suzhou Creek is a fascinating destination rich in history and culture with a myriad of heritage attractions worth exploring.

Beautiful bridges

Many of the Creek’s bridges are heritage gems. Pic: Peter Stuckings/Shutterstock

There are many beautiful bridges that connect the Creek to different venues; in fact, the Shanghai government recently announced that a new bridge called Changping Road Bridge will be built to alleviate traffic congestion.

Most of the bridges along the Creek were built over a century ago, which makes them heritage gems steeped in Suzhou’s history. One of the most famous bridges is Waibaidu which roughly translates as “going across for free” in Mandarin.

It was built as a toll-free bridge after locals complained about the toll charges that they would have pay to use the Wells Bridge to cross over the Creek.

Waibadu, also called the Garden Bridge, has now earned its place as a Shanghai icon. There’s a long-standing tradition where grandchildren are carried across the bridge by their grandmothers to signify the beginning of a smooth-sailing life.

Riverbank attractions

The historic Astor House Hotel. Pic: Vincent St. Thomas/Shutterstock

From Waibaidu Bridge, many interesting sights accompany your way as you take a walk down the riverbank. Towards the north of the bridge near to The Bund is the Astor House Hotel which was once one of the most luxurious hotels in the world frequented by celebrities and important political figures.

Further on, you will come across the historical Shanghai Postal Museum, a grand building with art deco influences featuring an eclectic mix of three-story Corinthian columns and large statues of Greek gods.

Along the way, you can also catch sight of the old Broadway Mansion and Embankment Building as well as old riverfront warehouses that have been refurbished for commercial and cultural use – for instance the Sihang Warehouse and the Moganshan Lu, a “gallery district” which houses over 50 gallery spaces.

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Creek cruises

To experience the best sights of Suzhou Creek, scenic river cruises are highly recommended. Go for both the day and night cruises as each offers a different experience of the historic waterfront.

While Shanghai river cruises take you through the glamour of the Bund, Suzhou Creek cruises have a bucolic and romantic atmosphere about it, offering a glimpse of the quieter and subtler side of Shanghai graced by rustic warehouses and 1930s buildings.

Currently, there’s a new cruise route extended to 19 kms from the former 10 kms – from the Danba Road Dock to Moganshan Road Dock in Putuo District, and to the Waibaidu Bridge in Huangpu District.

Redesigning the creek

A redesign is underway for the creek. Pic: astudio/Shutterstock

Following the 12-year rehabilitation program, more plans are in the pipeline to transform the Creek. Just recently, US-based architectural firm Sasaki won an international competition to redesign Suzhou Creek into an urban waterfront.

According to the firm, the new design will put focus onto reorganizing the waterway with urban nodes and parks to create community-oriented open spaces. Much to the relief of heritage advocates, historic warehouses along the riverbanks will also be preserved and re-purposed into a lively art and cultural center.

Additionally, there are plans to incorporate wetland terraces to protect the native habitat of the river and mitigate flooding issues.

With all these in the works, Suzhou Creek is poised to be one of Shanghai’s main centerpieces, offering residents and tourists alike a new experience of the riverfront city in the near future.

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