On the China leg of a recent trip to Asia, visiting family and downtime were the orders of the day. A hop over to Tokyo for several days of running around photographing and filming some of the world’s best transit oriented development was my main course in terms of Third Place Media portfolio work, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to collect a few things while in the middle kingdom. We only spent a few days in Shanghai, primarily as a stopping point to and from Jinhua in Zhejiang Province, but I managed to squeeze in a couple of photowalks between meals and making the rounds to see friends and family.
This first stop, at Zhongshan Park Station on the Shanghai Metro, had been on my mind since early 2010. I stumbled across this subterranean hive of activity while on the way to visit the ChinesePod office, which at the time was located nearby. I wasn’t explicitly thinking then about urbanism and transit oriented development as avenues to pursue my career calling, the intersection of lifestyle and environmental sustainability, but they were certainly topics that captured my interest on their own merit. I was still buzzing from a several month stay in Tokyo in 2008 and subsequent visit a few months earlier (January 2010), and anything that resembled the Tokaido megalopolis rail-retail ecosystem immediately caught my eye.
Fast forward to October 2012, with my parents in-law back at our hotel putting our toddler to bed, my wife and I went out for what might have been our first date in several months. (Real men take their spouses to subway stations for an evening to remember.)
I’m still working out the ownership structure of public rail systems in China. It’s a bit more complicated than what you find in the US (majority state owned) and even Japan (mostly a mix of private companies and the successor companies from the privatization of Japan National Rail, with a small number of government run others mixed in). In China, a significant portion is completely state owned and operated, but there are also public-v2-private partnerships and some companies that, while technically private, are subject to significant government influence. The more I dig, the deeper I find the rabbit hole goes.
Eventually I hope to get a firmer grasp on the flow of funds and decision making power, as it’s an important piece to consider when looking at my target area of interest, which is how transit systems in places like China and Japan have been able to take a significantly different approach to developing the spaces in and around the stations compared with somewhere like the US. In the Shanghai Metro, you’ll find some sort of offerings of food and convenience items in just about every station, either from simple kiosks or permanent points of sale. Zhongshan Park Station takes this to an extreme end, with multiple underground levels, anchor stores, cafes, several food courts and a multi-level department store once you’ve reached the surface.
I think this approach reflects the understanding that transit is also public space. Not having these features would represent a wasted opportunity to provide settings in which people can gather and spend time. It shows that walking and using public transit as the primary modes of mobility can be a desirable lifestyle choice. For the West to get over its addiction to carbon intense personal transit (cars), we’re going to need to learn how to do things this way.
I’ll leave you to wander the rest of the way through. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!