Walking around The Living Water Park on a Sunday afternoon, you would be forgiven for thinking it was a normal Chinese park, complete with old people playing cards, children fishing with brightly coloured nets, and a man with a karaoke box. But this park offers something special: a natural approach to cleaning up urban rivers.
Located in the north-east of Chengdu city centre on southern banks of the Fu river, it provides an area to relax, as well as being an educational centre and a natural water filtration system. It has received acclaim from environmental scientists for showing the process of naturally cleaning polluted water and teaching people to care for water environments.
The Living Water Park is a result of international cooperation. In 1995, Betsy Damon, an American environmental artist from Minnesota, came to Chengdu and launched the “Water Protectors” event. She took a group of university students to the Funan River and placed a piece of white gauze into it, which immediately turned black. This act demonstrated the seriousness of pollution, and encouraged people to protect the environment. She suggested the concept of a living water park to the Chengdu City Government, combining ideas of water protection with a permanent park, with the aim of giving a clear message to protect the environment. In that year, Chengdu was undergoing a complete dredge of the Funan River, and the engineering department agreed to the idea.
The living water park has an area of 24,000 square metres, and has been designed to look like a fish. The park’s general layout was designed by Americans Margie Ruddick and Betsy Damon, and Korean Choi Jae, before specific plans were drawn up by Luo Huabai and others from the Chengdu Institute of Landscape Architecture.
As you cross the river towards the park, you see a tall, old-fashioned looking teahouse with a massive waterwheel outside, contrasting beautifully with the TV Tower in the background. This waterwheel pushes the river water upwards towards the fish’s “eye,” a round fountain that lies in the centre of the fish’s “head.” Looking at the fountain, you could easily assume it is only there for decorative purposes, but this is the first step in the process of cleaning up the river water. It is here that sediment is removed from the water, and it is the first sign of the genius merging of science and art that makes up this park.
The hilly ground on the fish’s head is covered in a forest of trees, bushes and grasses from nearby mountains, with over 140 types in total. These plants come together to create a natural-looking forest, in which the environmental education centres of the site are hidden. This natural looking forest was designed by professors from the Sichuan Institute of Natural Resources.
The fish’s stomach is a manmade wetland system, a key component of the park. 18 pools, planted with a variety of water plants, create an outline of the fish’s fins, scales and backbone, which gradually remove pollutants and clean the water.
After being cleaned in the wetlands, the water enters a sculpture, created to look like a small stream in the mountains, where it becomes oxidised naturally, before entering the fishpond. Carp and goldfish can swim around in the pool, showing how clean the water is.
The fish’s tail is made up of a bamboo forest and small stream, creating up a peaceful, green space. The curving stream, passing through the bamboo forest, finally reaches the Funan river, perfectly completing the water purification process and giving life to dead water.