From Highway to High Line
Urbanus Architecture & Design
The area surrounding Renmin Road as it approaches the Pearl River is more broadly representative of Guangzhou’s challenges. The highway, one of the first elevated roadways in China, was built in 1987 to connect the north and south sides of the river. Below, the street was an important commercial strip in old Guangzhou with arcaded shop-houses along both sides of the street. Today, the highway has relatively low traffic, but the support pillars and access ramps badly congest the now blighted corridor below. Adjacent buildings, heavily impacted by traffic noise, have deteriorated and the street long ago lost its luster.
The re-imagining of Renmin Road proposes a transformation of the elevated highway into a bicycle and pedestrian promenade. Inspired by the New York City High Line, this promenade directly links to the existing Cantonese dwellings, which have been modernized, and then crosses the river. Below, the community retains its village-like feel, with a new corridor of the BRT system to provide high-speed access to the area. Public space is expanded through skyways over the roofs. On the ground, pedestrians and cyclists are given priority over private vehicles and trucks, which have been limited to local access. These improvements preserve and enhance the vitality, appeal and centrality of this area to Guangzhou’s economic and social life.
Thirty years ago, Guangzhou was a city of bicyclists with a vibrant street life. Many residents lived in compact urban villages or in the historic city center, which had narrow streets and lively, walkable environments. After three decades of rapid modernization, these vibrant neighborhoods are increasingly under threat from a rising tide of private cars and the infrastructure that supports them. As the city expands, new developments are more likely to be super-blocks surrounded by gates rather than historically resonant urban forms.
To address these trends, several initiatives have been implemented by the city government, including street reclamation and traffic control. In addition, Guangzhou opened Asia’s highest capacity BRT system, in 2010, which already carries over 800,000 passengers a day. Bike lanes are being included in the design of some new roads, and a bike sharing system will be operational before the Asian Games in November 2010.