Landscape Performance Benefits
- Increases flood storage capacity by approximately 29,500 cu yds, equivalent to 9 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
- Reused 5,354 trunks and branches from nursery trees thinned on the site to create timber embankments, saving $16,500 in material costs.
- Contributes to supporting at least 60 wildlife species including 36 bird species, 10 dragonfly species, 13 butterfly species and 1 frog species, as a critical part of a larger riverfront ecosystem. Two of these species are nationally protected.
- Attracts over 1,530 visitors on a typical weekday evening. Of 50 residents surveyed, 54% use the park more than 3 times per week. The park is accessible to an estimated 82,440 nearby residents within a half-mile walking distance.
- Improves physical health according 86% of 50 surveyed residents and diversifies opportunities for recreational activity according to 92% of residents. The park is used for at least 33 types of outdoor activities, especially those promoting health, family bonding, and social interactions.
- Is perceived as safe for use during flood season by 86% of 50 surveyed residents.
- Improves understanding of ecological conservation according to 62% of 58 survey respondents.
- Influenced housing choice for 50% of 50 surveyed residents.
- Created 19 jobs in park management, including facility maintenance, security, and cleaning services. Landscape maintenance work creates additional jobs.
At a Glance
Research Center for Landscape Architecture Planning, Beijing Tsinghua Tongheng Urban Planning and Design Institute (THUPDI)
Former Land Use
Tree nursery/river floodplain
34-36 Dong Shun Cheng Lu, Wensheng Qu
Liaoyang Shi, China
$14 million (includes 3 years post-construction maintenance)
Yanxiu Park is a new riverfront public park in the expanding River-east district of the city of Liaoyang. By challenging regulations and incorporating resilient design, the park was built within the 100-year floodplain of China’s Taizi River in an area of high-density development. The resilient design of Yanxiu Park accommodates floods, which inundate the site for an average of 3 to 5 days annually, and enhances the floodplain’s ecological functions. The steep banks of the Taizi River and ponds were reshaped to provide more intimate human-water interactions as well as riparian habitat. A side pond-channel system was created by connecting 2 existing gravel mining pits with a new winding creek to safely move flood waters through and out of the park. All primary paths, pavilions, restrooms, and viewing platforms were installed above the 50-year flood level. Incorporating new habitat systems, cultural facilities, and recreational opportunities, the park has become a daily destination for Liaoyang residents.
The opportunity to create a public park out of an underused 28-hectare area of land in the midst of Liaoyang’s expanding new waterfront district was discovered by landscape architects during the process of developing a municipal-scale green space system master plan in 2010. This land had been used as a government-operated nursery and immediately caught their attention because its advantageous location and generous size had great potential to become a large urban park for the new district. However, the site, due to its location within the 100-year floodplain, was strictly under the jurisdiction of the Waterworks Bureau whose priority was flood protection. Because of the annual flooding during summers, the Bureau strongly resisted the idea of converting the land into an urban public park. Therefore, getting approval to create a park in this location was an enormous challenge.
A sense of responsibility for land stewardship and persistent outreach to the city government played the most important role in realizing the project. The planning and design team industriously investigated regulations in other countries, like the United States, related to park development in floodplains. They were able to present a solid case that the judicious use of regulated flood sites as urban parks can bolster public safety, improve land-use efficiency, and create a social amenity at the same time. A detailed landscape design proposal accompanied by a long-term maintenance plan were presented at meetings with all stakeholders, including the Waterworks Bureau, to demonstrate how design strategies could address safety concerns, as well as the enormous value of creating such a large park in a natural setting within a high-density mixed development district. The city agencies eventually recognized the potential of the site and adapted their administrative structure to allow the establishment of Yanxiu Park.
- 2 former gravel mining pits were redesigned as “Yanxiu Lake” and “Lotus Pond.” A new 768-ft-long terraced meandering creek, “Zhuoqing Creek,” connects the ponds to increase flood storage capacity and safely convey rapid water flow. Zhuoqing Creek has a traditional Chinese rockery design with a 20-ft-tall waterfall that provides calming water sounds to block undesirable traffic noises from the busy bridge and urban arterial that bounds the park to the north and east.
- 1.4 miles of steep banks along the Taizi River and the 2 ponds were reconfigured into either terraced or gently-sloped vegetated banks to provide more intimate interactions with water, prevent soil erosion, and enhance habitat structure for both plants and wildlife. Timber poles, gabions, or large cobbles were used as stabilization materials. Regrading of the site was coordinated with adjacent construction sites to reduce material and hauling costs for soils.
- A 32,300-sf parking lot with 70 parking spaces was constructed using river pebbles excavated from the new creek and 2 ponds to reduce material and hauling costs.
- Wetland plant species such as yellow flag, common reed, lotus flower, and purple loostrife were planted on the shorelines of the Taizi River, Yanxiu Lake, and Lotus Pond to prevent bank erosion, enhance water quality of the river, and improve wildlife habitat. While these species have been used globally and are often thought of as invasive, they are native to China and are commonly used in Chinese traditional design.
- Around 4,000 existing mature trees were carefully preserved to maintain existing wildlife habitat. The existing tree nursery, densely planted in 1 meter by 1 meter grids, was selectively thinned with healthy saplings transplanted to adjacent construction sites. This opened up 5 view corridors that visually connect the park to its surroundings.
- 77 species of upland trees, shrubs and grasses were added to the planting palette, including 74% native species such as Chinese red pine, Chinese ash, white birch, Manchurian ash, Armenian plum, Chinese hawthorn, flowering almond, and “Gold Mound” spirea, creating a multi-layered landscape that encourages biodiversity.
- A 63,928-sf entry plaza, including a 14,773-sf stepped seating area with direct views to Yanxiu Lake, provides ample space for social and commercial events and other group activities such as singing and plaza dancing.
- A variety of spaces were designed to accommodate daily recreation and exercise, including a 3-mile-long looped running pathway through the park, a 190-ft-long massage path winding through a dense woodland and paved with small river pebbles for barefoot massages, 2 tennis courts, 1 basketball court, 10,760 sf of gym equipment, and 12,100 sf of play equipment.
- A 4,318-ft-long wooden boardwalk, 2,352-ft-long walking path, and 2 platforms along the Taizi River provide direct access to the riverfront. Another 4 raised wooden boardwalks/platforms and a “Musician’s Pavilion” designed specifically for practicing instruments, provide open and covered spaces for users to interact with Yanxiu Lake and Lotus Pond. All of the raised boardwalks, platforms, and pavilion were designed in a low-cost and low-maintenance way to endure floods.
- An electrical system made up of subsystems installed in different elevation zones can be flexibly controlled from off-site so that certain subsystems can be shut down in advance according to flood level forecasts.
If the Park were not built in its current location but rather on another high-value parcel of the same size in the new River-east district, the City would have missed out on $41 to $45 million in land transaction revenue for residential, commercial or office development.
- The park survived a 50-year flood in August 2012 right before its completion with little damage to park facilities, validating the premise that an urban park can be designed to withstand floods while still accommodating heavy public use during flood-free seasons.
- In light of the typical heavy human use of large urban parks in China, the design objective of enhancing wildlife habitat would probably have needed to be addressed at a larger spatial scale. The on-site wildlife survey suggested that the inevitable human-wildlife conflict makes it difficult to achieve full life-cycle accommodation of wildlife species within the park itself, especially for those species sensitive to human presence. This demonstrates the importance of establishing a continuous green space system to connect the park with other less-visited zones that could better accommodate wildlife needs.
- Although the majority of the Taizi riverbank was stabilized with dense vegetation or traditional rockery, a small patch was left open with the intention of creating a gently-sloped open lawn area with no visual obstruction to the river. However, this design proved unsuccessful in withstanding the erosive river flows, driving the designers to explore other design solutions in order to achieve the gently-sloping lawn aesthetic in a riverfront setting.
- Investigation of how to solve conflicts between ideal spaces for certain park uses and construction regulations needs to continue at this site. For example, the raised “Musician’s Pavilion” by the water was built above the 50-year flood level to provide space for people to practice musical instruments such as saxophones or traditional Chinese Erhu. This particular park use is not well accommodated in other parks of Liaoyang, making Yanxiu’s musician’s pavilion a very popular destination, especially for retired seniors who come nearly every day to practice while enjoying the waterfront scenery. However, because of the strict regulation that no “buildings” may be constructed within the 100-year floodplain, the pavilion offers little insulation during the long, cold winters of Liaoyang, making it very uncomfortable for seniors to use during that time.
Granite and brick paving: Xutun Weisen Stone Material Plant, Gaizhou City, Liaoning Province
Zhuoqing Waterfall rockery: Shuiyuan Rare Stone Company, Benxi City, Liaoning Province
Zhuoqing Waterfall artificial fog: Beijing Fanglinrun Artificial Fog Equipment Manufacturing Co. Ltd., Beijing
Wood for pavilions, bridges, and platforms: Tongfa Wood Manufacturing Co. Ltd., Liaoyang City, Liaoning Province
Executive Architect, Landscape Architect and Civil Engineer: Beijing Tsinghua Tongheng Urban Planning & Design Institute (THUPDI)
General Contractors: Liaoning Jianfa Construction Co., Ltd.; Liaoning Shan-Shui City Landscape Architecture Co., Ltd.
Role of the Landscape Architect
The landscape architecture team led the coordination of multiple stakeholders, including various government agencies and local residents, in envisioning the site as a park. The team was instrumental in integrating the professional and technical input of a multidisciplinary team in developing the conceptual design, detailed design, construction documents, as well as a long-term maintenance plan. The team also provided quality assurance in the site construction process. Landscape architects play a growing role in discovering the hidden potential of land resources in increasingly dense urban environments and proactively challenging outdated regulations to maximize land resource values. Yanxiu Park would have remained an underused floodplain land inaccessible to the public if not for the persistent outreach to the city agencies.