Re: [carfree_cities] update on Gulang Island, China's biggest carfree town
- I am most interested in what you might have further to say on Gulang.
Would you be willing to write a brief article on it for New Colonist
(http://www.newcolonist.com)? With pictures? We can't pay, but it's a
decent way to advance the cause--a lot of our readers are professional
planner, architects, and activists, but many more are just regular folks
with an interest in making city life better, and they don't know this
sort of thing exists, for the most part.
Let me know.
> Thanks to its entry in the Listing of Carfree Places, and Pete
> Menchetti's photos and commentary, I added the island of Gulang to my
> recent China itinerary. Of the short list of completely carfree towns
> around the world, most nowadays live primarily as tourist resorts.
> While Gulangyu seems to be a playground for residents of the city of
> Xiamen, of which Gulangyu is a part,it seems as yet an undiscovered
> destination for visitors from elsewhere in China or beyond. As a
> result, tourist-oriented businesses have not yet displaced the
> workaday feel of a normal functioning town that just happens to get
> by without cars, or even bicycles. As you can imagine, thats an
> awfully rare and refreshing thing to experience.
> In three days I saw only 4 other caucasian visitors, and all the
> Chinese to whom I mentioned our visit, even those in the travel
> business, looked puzzled for a moment and then universally
> asked, "ah, you must have gone to Xiamen on business?" I had to
> explain to each and every one the attractions of Gulang Island.
> Gulang reminded me of lots of different places. Imagine a combination
> Old Havana (which I know only from pictures, but its crumbling
> mansions seem very similar to Gulang's)
> a Mexican hilltown, such as Taxco or San Miguel
> the Cinque Terre of Italy
> Hawaii, with its wild poinsettias, bouganvillea, pleasant beaches
> an Austrian village, with piano and violin music wafting from open
> a little bit of Las Vegas, with gaudy lights every evening on every
> imaginable landmark on both sides of the channel.
> put it all in a Chinese setting, and you have Gulang.
> Its a thoroughly delightful place, but not without its unsettling
> Though Pete Menchetti included a picture of the ubiquitous carts that
> are used to carry heavy items about, he didn't show them on the
> town's many hills. Its an appalling struggle to drag these things up
> the steep lanes when loaded heavily, as with construction materials.
> Further, the one danger for pedestrians in this otherwise peaceful
> place is from these same carts headed downhill: there are no brakes,
> save for the legs of their handlers. A cart with hundreds of kilos of
> cargo may come careening down at you at any moment, its handler
> barely in control.
> This called to mind me of photos of electic utility carts in such
> places as Zermatt, which would be good additions to this town at some
> point. Also, though I don't know the true cause-and-effect, it seems
> plausible that the generally forlorn state of many of the older
> mansions in the town may be in part due to the difficulty and expense
> of moving construction materials to and from the sites.
> There is also no public transit to speak of on the island. Though
> most people live near the Xiamen ferry and the town of Gulang, quite
> a few others are farther afield. It would be a hot walk up and down
> the hills in the warm muggy weather that exists there much of the
> year. The small electric carts that circle the island are aimed at
> tourists and ridiculously expensive for daily use.
> There is vast capital investment being made in many areas of China,
> certainly including Xiamen. Preserving and restoring historic places
> has generally been very low on the list, if on it at all. I hope
> Gulang will continue to be preserved as a refuge from the highrise-
> and-freeway "improvements" that are the norm for new development,
> while at the same time letting the town slide neither into decay, nor
> into becoming just a museum town.
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"Hope cannot be said to exist, nor can it be said not to exist. It is
just like the roads across the earth. For actually there were no roads
to begin with, but when many people pass one way a road is made."