Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Over Road, Under Road

Imagine strolling along side the Capital Beltway, using it as a way to get from your house to the bus, the subway, or to work. Or imagine walking across the New Jersey Turnpike, on your way to buy meats, produce, and household items at a marketplace on the other side. These are the kinds of scenarios, unimaginable in America, that play out every day in cities all around China.

How does all of this work? How do little shops and restaurants exist and even thrive right at the edge of six, nine, or twelve lanes of traffic? And how do all of those xingren (pedestrians) get from where there are right now to where they want or need to go in order to get things done...without getting run over in the process?

A big part of the story lies in the bridges that cross over the country's roadways and the tunnels that link the far corners of busy intersections in ways that do not not appear possible when standing on the street with cars, taxis, and buses continually whizzing by.

Now, with all of that said, this is the part of the story where words truly fail. These are not little pedestrian bridges and tunnels we are talking about. This is like Pittsburgh for pedestrians. (Hi Jim and Laura!) Bridges everywhere, with multiple levels, multiple points of origin, multiple destinations. And the story underground is perhaps even more interesting. Oftentimes, when you come back up to the ground, you are at a place that you couldn't even see when you originally descended into the subterranean world of not just xingren, but trinket hawkers, snack shops, and other unexpected little moments of commerce.

If only pictures could capture the full extent of all of this. These bridges and tunnels are, in effect, social devices that take big cities like Beijing and help turn them into much more manageable collections of small, interconnected places...

~Steve

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