When people think of the Bund in Shanghai, thoughts turn to the barges chugging along the Huangpu River and architecture that is a reminder of time when life was slower and less intense.
Most tourists to China's largest commercial centre go to the Bund, but if they are aboard an international cruise ship, their first impression of Shanghai is anything but idyllic.
The ships have to anchor at the Waigaoqiao Port, which mainly handles container ships, and passengers then have to be transported to the Bund and the rest of city they've read about in the travel guides.
In 2002, the municipal government took steps to change this. It chose an area along the northern bank of the Huangpu as the site for a project that will serve as the mainland's premier gateway for the cruise industry. The port will allow tourists better access to Shanghai, and it will also serve as a place where more Chinese set off on international voyages.
The large-scale redevelopment is situated in Hongkou District and covers an area of 3.66 square kilometres, stretching 2.2 kilometres along the waterfront. Known as the North Bund, it is just a couple of kilometres from the Bund that tourists know so well.
The jewel in the crown of this project will be a gigantic international passenger terminal, which developers hope will help catapult the city to the status of global cruise centre.
The plans sound futuristic, but in fact its origins are rooted in the past. In 1845, the British East India Company started to build wharves along the Huangpu River in Hongkou District, and in 1886 the North Bund received its first visiting international vessel from the United Kingdom.
"The Huangpu River beside the North Bund has a water depth of 9-13 metres, which made it a good natural harbour for vessels," said Du Shanjin, director of the North Bund Development Project Office.
While the North Bund was the starting point for Shanghai's extraordinary development in the following years, the area itself was strangely left behind.
It remained home to many shabby old buildings and factories, and was plagued by poor infrastructure.
"The redevelopment of the North Bund area also involves a renovation of the old city," Du said. "More than half of the projects involved in the redevelopment are infrastructure upgrades, including two transformer substations."
Construction on the redevelopment projects started in 2004 after thousands of residents had been relocated. The projects are expected to take more than a decade to complete.
According to Du, about 20 projects on the banks of the Huangpu will be completed by 2009 in time for the World Expo in 2010. The Shanghai Port International Passenger Terminal which the government describes as "a project in line with the image of Shanghai as a global metropolis" will be one of them.
The 130,000-square-metre terminal, scheduled for completion next year, is expected to be fully operational in 2008.
It will comprise an 880-metre-long wharf that will be able to berth three international passenger liners of 70,000 to 80,000 tons. The terminal building is reportedly designed to the standard of airport terminals, able to accommodate large passenger flows.
What's more the building itself, a glass hemisphere in the shape of an irregular ellipse, is expected to become a new architectural landmark of the city.
Surrounding the new terminal will be office buildings, hotels and other supporting facilities, including entertainment, shopping and dining venues.
A green open space will extend 1.8 kilometres along the north bank of the river. To make more room for this, designers have arranged many facilities underground or in what they call "semi-basement" areas. In fact, the underground space of the new terminal amounts to 245,000 square metres, compared with 165,000 square metres of surface area.
The municipal government has promised that historic spots will be well preserved in the redevelopment process. World-famous Tilanqiao, an area that used to be a Jewish ghetto during World War II, is located nearby. Its historic buildings, including the Ohel Moshe Synagogue, will be protected, Du said, and may even become a recommended attraction for visiting passengers.
Modern shipping centre
While the project aims to boost the local cruise industry, "the shipping industry is the key element in the redevelopment scheme," Du said.
When Yangshan Deep Water Port opened last December, Shanghai became the port city handling the largest overall cargo volume and the second largest number of containers in the world. Now, Du says, "a 1-million-square-metre Central Business District (CBD) will be developed in the North Bund area, gathering a large number of shipping service companies and organizations from home and abroad."
Before the redevelopment began, the North Bund was already home to about 20,000 shipping businesses and organizations, including the Shanghai Shipping Exchange, Shanghai MSA, the China Shipping Group, COSCO and the Shanghai International Port Group (SIPG), which is also the main developer of the international passenger terminal.
After the North Bund CBD is built, officials expect it to become the third business hub around the Huangpu River, with economic functions complementing the Bund area in Puxi and the Lujiazui Financial Centre in Pudong.
The goal is for the North Bund to attract even more shipping businesses to help Shanghai strengthen its shipping services industry. But for that to happen, Jade Fang of the China Institute of Navigation says the city needs to change its priorities and focus on improving its service quality and trade environment rather than the level of its facilities.
"The role of information collection and concentration should be stressed in the redevelopment," Fang said.
Government officials say that the redeveloped North Bund could potentially become a venue for Shanghai's whole shipping industry. The key to the industry's growth lies in attracting global businesses.
"It will become an important information platform for shipping businesses," said Xu Minggang, vice-director of the media department for the Hongkou District People's Government. "It will become a control centre for cargo and passengers flowing through Waigaoqiao Port, Yangshan Deep Water Port, the new international passenger terminal and others.
"Now we are hoping more international shipping giants will move their headquarters to the North Bund in Shanghai."
The Shanghai Port International Cruise Terminal has recently begun trial operations, although it is not yet completed. A 1000-passenger Italian cruise liner became the first vessel to dock at the new terminal and started to make regular trips starting at the new terminal from July 3. Also, thousands of Chinese tourists embarked on a five-day round trip to Japan and South Korea.
The voyage indicated that Shanghai has for the first time become a home port for international cruise liners.
More international shipping companies are expected to assign their luxury cruise liners for regular trips to Shanghai, or start from Shanghai, after the new cruise terminal is completed.
(China Daily July 27, 2006)