Re-defining the appreciation and usability of urban watersides in the urban center and peri-urban fringes of Shanghai

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Countless waterways defined both the rural and urban landscape and related daily life activities in China’s Yangtze River Delta for many centuries. However, much of these bodies of water disappeared due to extremely rapid urbanization in the last three decades and this process is ongoing. This paper critically assesses how the appreciation and usability of the remaining urban watersides is currently changing drastically by examining recent waterfront projects in the Direct Controlled Municipality of Shanghai. This research mobilizes insights from the academic field of Sustainability Transitions – specifically on expectations, experimentation and innovation journeys – to explain how, in the context of extreme urban pressure, well-manicured new urban watersides are often visually attractive but functionally inadequate. The paper concludes with recommendations to reverse this trend and to create more sustainable and attractive watersides. By describing, comparing and evaluating three cases, this paper by Dutch Shanghai-based urban designer and researcher Harry den Hartog also wishes to contribute to the discourse on China’s urban transition by critically examining the gap between expectations and outcomes in daily life reality.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-64
Number of pages28
JournalEuropean Journal of Creative Practices in Cities and Landscapes (CPCL)
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • experiments
  • place-making
  • urban delta
  • socio-technical transitions
  • waterside


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