The last thing I expected to find while walking through a rapidly expanding city like Wuhan, China was a field of sunflowers. The shock of yellow and green took me aback during my recent exploration of Hankou Jiangtan Park, an oasis in the midst of a city that nowadays, seems more likely to sprout high-rises than flowers. I wasn’t alone in this discovery—locals flocked to the waterfront park to take selfies and take in the greenery, perhaps without considering that the park was originally built as part of the city’s flood control plan. The park is a model for how waterfronts can serve two purposes—one ecological, one social.
Residents of Wuhan, China are no strangers to the water. The Hanshui and Yangtze Rivers cut through the landscape of the City, and its lakes are among its most highly recommended scenic attractions. So it comes as no surprise that Wuhan’s Hankou Jiangtan Park is one of the world’s great waterfront parks. Running alongside the Yangtze River, Hankou Jiangtan Park provides a shared space that adapts to the ebbs and flows of water and people, alike.
The park has transcended its environmental functions to become a great place, brimming with activity in true Power of 10+ style, and upon my first visit to Wuhan in preparation for our upcoming nation-wide Placemaking Week there this December, it provided hours of people-watching and exploration.
PPS is a supporting partner for Wuhan Placemaking Week in collaboration with UN-Habitat and the Wuhan Land Use and Spatial Planning Research Centre (WLSP). The event will feature sessions on waterfronts, healthy and community engagement, and historical streets. Hankou Jiangtan Park provides the perfect backdrop for conversations about placemaking and public spaces in growing Chinese cities.
In a city of ten million people, Hankou Jiangtan Park provides equal parts respite and recreation, fulfilling all of the best qualities of a great waterfront destination:
1. Engagement with the Water
As William H. Whyte noted, “It’s not right to put water before people and then keep them away from it." Hankou Jiangtan Park provides ample opportunity to interact with the Yangtze River—with a sloped edge that provides space for people to walk directly down to the water, in addition to its function as flood control infrastructure. Along the water’s edge, young couples and families sit together, solo visitors enjoy a quiet space for contemplation, and all are able to view the citywide animated light show that illuminates high-rise buildings on both sides of the river.
2. Multi-Generational Spaces
Everything in the park is designed with multi-generational use in mind. Within a ten-minute period during my visit, I watched a single piece of exercise equipment be used both by a pair of older women and by a toddler. The wide sidewalks, accessible entrances, and opportunities for recreation in the park make it a popular destination for people of all ages.
Scores of dockless bikes and scooters line the edges of the park entrance—a testament to the many multi-modal ways that people get to the park. The park is universally accessible, and connects with bus routes, bike lanes, and other active transport modes. The park is walkable along its full length and provides links to restaurants and museums, like the Wuhan Science and Technology Museum, that sits at the park’s Southern edge.
The main part of the park consists of a long, central thoroughfare, replete with nooks and side paths, prime for exploration. Beyond being fun to explore, in and of themselves, each path leads to a well-loved destination. Upon meandering down a quiet, tree-lined path myself, I came across a small amusement park, complete with bumper cars. Each corner of the park is connected in ways that invite visitors to stray from the main path, including a few unexpected installations, like the vast field of sunflowers.
5. Multitude of Activities
As in any great public space, Hankou Jiangtan Park comes to life because it has something to offer everyone. Its multitude of activities take place at all times of the day, from spirited Badminton matches among friends to ribbon dancers practicing their moves among the park’s shaded groves. Musicians practice Hulusi flutes with sheet music propped up on the park’s many tables and chairs, while vendors set up shop with roller-skate rentals, flowers, and balloons along the waterfront.
7. Limited Vehicular Access
Limited vehicular access in the park ensures that it remains a quiet respite from the rest of the city. Besides small golf cart-style vehicles, the inner park is free of motorized transportation—leaving the sidewalks open for activity at human scale and speed.
8. Place Management
The park’s elaborate horticultural displays and beautiful groves of uniformly planted trees require regular care. Frequent visits by park employees help keep the space clean, and their visible presence also adds to a sense of stewardship and safety within the park.
Hankou Jiangtan Park provides a world-class benchmark for how a waterfront can fulfill the dual roles of flood protection infrastructure and community destination. Its heavy use at all times of the day and night testify to its accessibility and variety of activities—not to mention its ability to bring locals and visitors up close and personal to one of the world’s most well-known rivers. As climate change demands that we build more infrastructure to adapt to rising seas and extreme weather, Wuhan’s waterfront should serve as a potent reminder to always demand that these investments also improve the everyday lives of our communities.
All photos taken by the author.