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Expansion of hours a nice step; now tear down fences
By Doug Young

THIS week’s Street View takes us for a stroll through the city’s parks, many of which will extend their opening hours under a trial program to improve access to Shanghai’s open spaces. As a Westerner, I find the idea of limited access and operating hours for city parks a bit strange, since most US parks are “open” all the time and have no barriers or fences to limit public access.

Accordingly, I hope this trial program will ultimately lead to the removal of fences and other barriers that now surround our city’s parks in the next few years, providing much-need open spaces to offset the rapid encroachment of skyscrapers and other tall buildings.

This move toward truly open parks looks like part of a broader drive to make Shanghai’s many government-administered museums, buildings and other public spaces more accessible to the city’s residents. It’s somewhat ironic that many of these places have a history of restricting access through high ticket prices, restricted operating hours and various other means, since their main purpose should be to welcome city residents.

This year’s edition of the ongoing pilot program will see 66 of Shanghai’s parks extend their hours for three months starting July 1. The program includes most of the city’s major parks, including the big park at People’s Square and Zhongshan Park.

I’m not a frequent user of the city’s parks, and was surprised to read that most now close at 5pm. The program will see those hours extended until 8 to 10pm for most, and 19 selected parks will be open all the time. The city first began experimenting with extended summertime hours for parks two years ago, and has been gradually expanding the experiment since then.

The extension aims to provide people with a place to cool off and relax in the evenings during the long, hot days of summer. One of my earliest memories of Shanghai comes from the early 1990s, before air conditioning was common and many people would often stay outside until late in the evening to avoid returning to cramped and uncomfortably hot homes.

This expansion seems like a long overdue move to create comfortable outdoor spaces that everyone can enjoy at any time.

Not long ago, most parks charged a fee just to go in, which again seems strange to a Westerner who grew up in a country where most such places are free. Such fees may have been acceptable for one-time visitors but certainly must have discouraged nearby residents who might have simply gone there for a walk each day after dinner.

On a broader basis, this opening of parks seems like part of a trend to make Shanghai’s other publicly owned attractions more accessible to both tourists and local residents. The city eliminated fees to visit its main art museum just three years ago in a bid to make art more accessible to the public. But many of its other public attractions still charge fees, some quite high, and it would be nice to see those ticket prices either lowered or even eliminated.

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