Shanghai's Bund reopened Sunday after a three-year project to restore the riverfront to its 1930s glory as the city prepares to welcome tens of millions of visitors for the World Expo.
The promenade between the colonial-style buildings and the river has been widened by 40 percent and the road is narrower after a new tunnel opened beneath the Bund, rerouting three quarters of the traffic, officials said.
Advertisement"The renovation aims to restore the old feel of the Bund, which used to belong to pedestrians and tourists before it gradually gave way to busy vehicle traffic," Zhou Wei, the head of Huangpu district told a news briefing.
He said Shanghai aims to create a landmark as attractive as Paris' Champs Elysees on the two-kilometre (1.2-mile) promenade where residents practise Tai Chi at sunrise and old and modern Shanghai face each other.
Officials declined to give a figure for how much the revamp cost, but it is part of chain of projects that will see up to 400 billion yuan (58 billion dollars) in direct and indirect investment in the Expo.
The figure given by state media is more than the 290 billion reportedly spent on the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Other projects for the Expo include a massive expansion of Shanghai's domestic airport and subway system.
Shanghai expects up to 100 million people -- most of them Chinese -- to attend the six-month event, which starts May 1.
The road has been reduced to six lanes from 11, thanks to the 3.3-kilometre (two-mile), two-level tunnel.
Two thirds of the road on the surface will be reserved for buses.
The narrower road brings the old bank buildings, hotels and boutiques closer to the park where hundreds of trees and benches have been added.
The Shanghai landmark dates back to the days of the British Empire and its name is derived from the Hindustani word for embankment.
China granted the land to the British in 1845 after the Treaty of Nanking ended the First Opium War and granted foreign merchants the right to reside and trade in Shanghai.
By the early 20th century, the Bund was known as the "Wall Street of Asia" and giants born there include the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, or HSBC, and insurers American International Group, or AIG.
But the Bund now looks across the river to China's new Wall Street, Pudong, where imposing skyscrapers have sprouted over the past two decades.
"The renovation takes the scale of the Bund to what it was in the 1930s in terms of the amount of space devoted to traffic and the public," said Peter Hibbard, author of "The Bund: Shanghai Faces West".
The latest work reverses ill-conceived changes made in the early 1990s when the road was widened, creating a physical and social barrier between the buildings and the waterfront, he said.
"It's a new era because not only is the actual Bund and the infrastructure going to be renewed but a lot of new projects are coming on stream in the buildings as well," Hibbard said.
"There's going to be a lot more places that more people can go into."
The Bund's reopening will be followed by the 500 million-yuan (73 million-dollar) relaunch of the legendary Peace Hotel. Peninsula has just opened a hotel there and the Waldorf Astoria is setting up as well.
The Bund is also home to a growing collection of cosmopolitan restaurants and designer boutiques.
But some, like author Qiu Xiaolong, fear the Bund is becoming too expensive for ordinary Chinese.
On a recent visit, the Shanghai-born crime writer, who learned English in the Bund park during the Cultural Revolution, said he was shocked by a bill of 1,000 yuan at a rooftop restaurant on the Bund.
"That's not my style," Qiu said. "But of course some people get rich and that might not be so bad."
As a sign of Shanghai's growing wealth -- and ambition -- the city commissioned artist Arturo Di Modica, who created Wall Street's bronze "Charging Bull" to create a similar sculpture for the Bund.
The Bund Bull, however, will be twice as big with slight modifications, said Zhou, the district chief.
"It will look younger and more energetic than the New York bull, symbolising the energy of Shanghai's economy. That's why the head of the Bund's bull looks up while the Wall Street Bull looks downward," he said.