People dance at Xiangyang Park. More than 40 parks are now open 24 hours a day. (Jiang Xiaowei)
With Shanghai enduring its annual heatwave, city parks offer a green, sometimes breezy respite, even beyond sundown. More than 40 parks in the city are now open 24 hours a day.
"The extension of hours is in response to the leisure time and exercise needs of residents," says Lu Jianping, deputy director of the Shanghai Greenery and Public Sanitation Bureau.
One survey found about 35 percent of residents visit parks at night, and 75 percent of them said they frequent parks every week.
Not all residents, however, are happy about round-the-clock parks in their neighborhoods.
Many living nearby complain about nighttime noise.
Xiangyang Park in Xuhui District, one of the city's oldest and most popular parks, opened to the public 24/7 last September after a year-long renovation.
Its outer walls were pulled down and five entry gates were added to create a "classic French-style garden."
At 8pm on a recent Thursday, the park was still filled with people escaping hot, stuffy homes.
"I play chess here, and it's such a pleasant place to take a night stroll," said Jiang Jianrong, a retiree living nearby. "The only problem is the noise created by groups of square-dancers."
There are 26 security guards in the park. Security chief Chen Xuejie admitted there are still some wrinkles to iron out with round-the-clock opening.
"It's impossible to have no problems," he said. "A major one is that people living close to the park complain about the noise at night.
"The prime cause for that is people dancing or working out to the music of boom boxes."
Ma Xiaoyuan, the park's director, said dancing groups must stop their activities at 9:30pm, half an hour earlier than the city's general regulations on noise.
"Sometimes we allow them to linger for five or 10 more minutes to finish a song," he said.
Security staff also shoo drunks and homeless people from the park at night. And there have been incidents of vandalism, said Ma.
Restrooms in the park are open from 6am to 10pm. That creates another problem.
Du Zhenzhou, a restroom cleaner, said he has seen park visitors urinating or defecating in the park after 10pm.
But steps have been taken. Limits have been placed on bike riding and pets in the park. Security officers remind bikers to walk their bikes to avoid collisions with pedestrians, and walking pets is discouraged for fear of scaring or harming children.
There are fewer than 100 people in the park after 10pm, Ma said.
Across town, it's been one year since Zhongshan Park in Changning District began 24-hour operation. The park receives up to 10,000 visitors at a time, with more than 5,000 lingering up to 9pm on clear summer nights and less than 500 remaining after 9pm.
From midnight to 4am, there are no more than 10 people in the park on average. In winter, visitors pretty much vanish after midnight, according to security guards.
At 7pm on a day when the city's orange heatwave alert is on, the park is quite full of residents out for an evening stroll and of children playing with skateboards. The park is also inviting to square dancers and night joggers.
"The night extension offers a place for me to jog at night after work because I often have to do overtime," said Yang Chenfeng, an advertising industry worker who often comes to jog after 9pm.
A skateboarder surnamed Wu came to the park after 10pm.
"The park is most crowded between 8pm and 10pm, and we need space for skateboarding," he explained, adding that he sometimes arrives at 4am when park lanes are free of people.
Still, there's no way to please all of the people all of the time.
"I think it is unnecessary to keep the park open so long," said He Liling, a resident who comes for some exercise since knee surgery. "I wouldn't dare be here at midnight because there are people sleeping here and the environment is not good."
Peng Yinzhen, a frequent visitor at Zhongshan Park, said she was disgusted to see two piles of human excrement on the park grounds one morning, buzzing with insects.
"I never saw feces in the park before it was opened 24 hours," Peng said.
A night shift security guard at the park said there would always be problems even if hundreds of surveillance cameras were installed and patrols stepped up.
At Zhongshan Park authorities receive complaints about square-dancing music and people sleeping in the park.
"Most campers are youngsters, and some sleep on the benches," said a night shift security guard surnamed Zang. "Some are unemployed. Some simply want to save on home air-conditioning costs, and some are scavengers."