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Journey to the Middle Kingdom: Part 3

Urban impressions

Shanghai, Xi’an, and Beijing -- vibrant urban centers that are being developed to handle crowds on a scale that is almost incomprehensible to even those of us who hail from Los Angeles. Cities of the future, with history around every corner, and an astonishingly well-developed array of cultural resources. Shanghai’s glittering skyline and modern museums; stirring contemporary classical music and 3,000 years of Imperial history in Xi’an; the Forbidden City and Art Zone 798 in Beijing. The layers and juxtapositions were endless and fascinating.

Atop Xi’an’s ancient city wall, which we were told is restored every 100 years. A commitment even the most diligent and comprehensive capital improvement planner might envy.Atop Xi’an’s ancient city wall, which we were told is restored every 100 years. A commitment even the most diligent and comprehensive capital improvement planner might envy.

 

 

 

 


Details from a walk through a traditional night market in the Muslim section of Xi’an


798 Art Zone in Beijing, a vibrant arts district in a series of decommissioned military munitions buildings.


We found public art on every corner in 798, from the propaganda works of another era to contemporary installations and works in progress.

Shanghai is the quintessential modern metropolis, with some of the world’s tallest skyscrapers, many of which were clad with astonishing displays of interactive light. Inspiration for the public artist in all of us!

Pudong skyscrapers,Shanghai

The Lupu Bridge over the Huangpu River was a particularly stunning example, combining lighting and graceful contemporary architecture.  Along with the skeletal remains of the old loading gantries, the bridge provides visual punctuation to one of Shanghai's newest resources, the thoughtful redevelopment of the old working harbor area in the Xuhui District into a series of parks and other public amenities. One example is the Long Museum, West Bund which is located on the site of an old wharf used for coal transportation.

Lupu Bridge (from Flickr)


Waterfront adjacent to the Long Museum with Lupu Bridge in the background


Riverfront development looking north from the Long Museum towards the Lupu Bridge

One of the details that struck me about this shiny metropolis was the integration of plants and flowers into the public domain, from elaborate creations on street corners and plazas, to simple flower boxes which lined the streets, even a stretch of white roses along the freeway.


Elevated pedestrian walkway over a busy Pudong intersection with elaborate floral plaza.


Traditional bamboo scaffolding and flower boxes on a street in the French Concession, Shanghai

Shanghai was also full of parks and public art, from a tiny green plaza at the end of a market street where we enjoyed a lunch of traditional street food next to the sculpture of a famous composer, to the magnificent Jing 'an sculpture park, adjacent to the new Shanghai Natural History museum, where we stopped on our way to the airport.  The current exhibit, Urban Paradise, featured a wide range of contemporary work by 15 artists from 11 countries; and an impressive array of sponsors and organizers that clearly illustrates local government's understanding of the value of cultural tourism.


My favorite, Urban Fox, by British artist Alex Rinsler.

 



Jessica Cusick

JESSICA CUSICK has been cultural affairs manager for the City of Santa Monica since early 2005, where she has overseen significant expansion in the City's support for artists and the creative sector, including the establishment of an artist fellowship program.

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