Few sayings have inspired me or come close to expressing the desire to rebuild society as a beautiful ecology as, "mountain inmy view, water in my sight, and home in my deep heart" (words by Chinese Central Government).
In October, I was invited to do a site investigation in Jinhua, my hometown. Jia’ai Xu, the parentlike city secretary, thoughtfully arranged a visit to the ancient Dongyu Village, my home village, where I was born and grew till I left for college in 1980. During my visit, the usually quiet village was vibrant and streets were packed with people. The scene was moving. Suddenly everything felt familiar: the courtyards of the ancient houses, the steps of the alleyways, the entrance ground in front of the village, the square in the village, and the ancestral hall of the family.... No matter who I ran across: the boy who bullied me, the girl on whom I had a crush, the "activist" who persecuted my parents during the Cultural Revolution, the member of "The Management Committee of the Poor and Lower-middle Peasants" who deprived my right of education, or the benefactors who helped my parents when they were suffering, welcomed me with tears in their eyes. I was filled with humility. The saying a "smile can melt away allies and enemies" could not of felt more true.
Since this trip, I have been thinking, what makes the nostalgia of home after 30 years away make you forget the ups and downs? How can belonging and self-identity live well beyond the friendships between people? Perhaps the answer is simple. We have viewed the same mountains, drank the same water, shared the same alleyways, walked the same roads, and been sheltered by the same trees. We are connected to the landscape beyond a place of mind; we have shared a feeling of the landscape. We are strongly connected by the network consisting of rich landscape, social, and cultural experience and memories. The social and ecological infrastructure of Dongyu Village was beautiful. It was there before the year of 1980, and appears in my dreams from time to time. To the north of the village is the Wujiang River — the mother river of Jinhua. The river meets the Qujiang River at Lanxi, flows into the Fuchunjiang and then Qiantangjiang River. The Wujiang River was wide and open and filled with dozens of boats. Mountains framed distant scenes. Waterfowl sat on the shoal, where my friends and I raised buffalos. During the spring floods, when the shoal disappeared and carps jumped from ponds to fields, the villagers would work collectively to catch the fish. During the dry summer, pumping stations and water channels supported the village.
Baishaxi Stream (the White Sand Creek) is a major tributary of the Wujiang River, originating from the southern mountain area, with willows and shallow pools. Except for several days in the spring flood season, the stream was visibly clear, and sunlight reaches all the way to where fish and crabs could be seen. The stream had long been a place to gather and play. During the Han Dynasty, 36 weirs were constructed on the stream and 36 channels were diverted to irrigate tens of thousands of agricultural fields. The channels became the lifeline for villagers, and through collective agreement they began to regulate distribution and usage. Channels brought the stream into the village, where it formed seven ponds. The village was made up of over 200 homes in several neighborhoods — each with a pond in the center. The ponds were not only a source of daily water use, but also provided aquaculture for the locals. The camphor trees provided shade around the ponds, and they naturally became places for daily gathering and night chatting. These beautiful landscapes that I have experienced, together with other villagers, is the foundation of my nostalgia and memory of landscape; these landscapes appear in my dreams and the nostalgia grows deeper and deeper throughout the years.
I therefore felt sad when I saw the Baishaxi Stream embanked and engineered. I felt sorrow when I saw the ancient weir being replaced by cemented and rubber dams. I felt grief when I saw the willows being removed from the waterbed, the shoal being destroyed, the ponds being filled, and the wildlife disappearing. Ironically, everything has been completed in the name of "Hydrological Infrastructure Development". I was at a loss when I saw that the channel diverted from the Baishaxi Stream was choked with trash, that the seven ponds in the village had been filled, the camphor tree near the village gate had been cut, and the forest in front of the village had been destroyed. All in the name of "Civil Infrastructure Development". In reality, real infrastructures — the ecological and social infrastructure, the landscape infrastructure that everyone relies on, and critical for natural process, biological process, social process, and ecological process — have disappeared.
My mother river, the Baishaxi Stream, is not a simple stream but an ecological infrastructure. It provides essential supplies, it carries of lives, culture, aesthetics, and enlightenments for people throughout the watershed. It is a social infrastructure, an experienced network, and a carrier for the endless memoires. All of these have inspired me the solution to rehabilitate her: Rebuilding society, as rebuilding ecology, should start with the rehabilitation and construction of these essential ecological infrastructures.
Since the completion and opening of Yanweizhou Park and Bayong Bridge, Jinhua on May 20th, 2014, the average number of daily visitors has reached 40,000 — "The city is going crazy for the bridge," as a local media described. With a budget of less than 70 million yuan, this park and the bridge connect urban functional zones and neighborhoods along the both sides of the Wujiang River, and 4 other urban parks, acting as a strong link for citizens' daily life. The bridge integrates service functions with aesthetic and has been regarded as "the most poetic pedestrian bridge" by the locals. Furthermore, the design takes flooding into consideration and is nature-friendly, preserving the existing wetlands and allowing the park to be submerged during storms. The project serves not only as an ecological infrastructure but also a social infrastructure that promotes a harmonious lifestyle to the local communities (Taken by Shuiming Zhou, October 8th, 2014).
Source: Yu, K. (2014). Socio-Eco Infrastructure for New Urbanization. Landscape Architecture Frontiers, 2(5):5-7.