Parks have become our cities’ living rooms, reflecting our shifting social and cultural identities through time. Often a delicate labour of love, these green jewels welcome and provide moments of shelter and joy within our increasingly dense and fast paced city cores – having a measurable effect on a neighbourhood’s wellbeing, while serving as a barometer of community health. Beijing’s Temple of Heaven park is an eloquent expression of an urban park’s life. At the heart of the city, it’s a sanctuary for the city’s 21 million residents, as skyscrapers tower from all sides over a proportionally small patch of green.
“From dawn to dark the park oscillates with the city’s beat, but the playground visitors aren’t the usual suspects.”
Encircled by a temple dating back from the Ming Dynasty in 1420, the park adheres to Confucian design and is a tranquil oasis peppered with cypress trees, weeping willows and age-old pines lining winding paths. From dawn to dark the park oscillates to the city’s beat, but the playground visitors aren’t the usual suspects.
The park’s most frequent users are elderly residents who have found their elixir of life; swarming to the park daily they are seen lining the gates from as early as 3AM ready to reclaim their youth. No treadmills, iPods or shiny new amenities in sight – they are scattered through the park performing rhythmic gymnastics, aerial aerobics on bars and beams and cheering loudly over a game of Chinese chess. But the park also has a lower frequency which encourages calm and solitude, moments to balance one’s inner qi, or “life force”, through visits to the temple, tai chi, calligraphy, walking backwards in a circle or by simply standing still. It’s in these restful moments that the sounds of the park can be heard, from the pan flute, to the water flowing in the ornamental ponds, through to the laughs and voices of young and old – a universal indicator of a successful public space.
It’s truly fascinating to watch (and hear), and certainly something the West could learn from in light of an ominous future as our baby boomers begin to face the fragility of life’s looming decline. As we build our parks for tomorrow, we need to view them as temples of health, encouraging activity and wellness through all the stages of one’s lifespan, while tackling the two biggest issues that affect our most vulnerable generation – sociability and mobility.
Shenaz Engineer is a Researcher & Strategist at Right Angle Studio. A Brisbane local, her innate curiosity and fascination for cities has seen her live across Amsterdam, Shanghai, New York, Paris and now Sydney. With a background in both business and design, she continues to collaborate with curious minds from different industries across the world, and has received both national and international awards for her work. Fascinated by the intersection of culture, architecture, health and technology, she is passionate about creating inclusive cities and crafting places for people.
Photography by Shenaz Engineer.