Shanghai’s historic district awaits demolition and redevelopment

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posted on 07/29/2022 10:16


(credit: Hector RETAMAL / AFP)

Shanghai, China- A boarded-up door, crumbling facades and a small group of defiant neighbors: one of Shanghai’s oldest neighborhoods clings to life as the city presses ahead with its demolition and redevelopment plans.

Laoximen or “ancient western gate”, named after the 16th century defensive walls, was a cultural center of the city.

Built around a Confucian temple, the two- or three-story stone and wood buildings are an anachronism in the heart of Shanghai’s modern business district.

Thousands of residents, a mix of old city families and migrant workers lured by cheap rents, were ordered to abandon their homes by 2017, though some remain clinging to old properties years after that deadline.

Yang, who did not give his full name, is one of the last residents to resist government compensation and remains in his home in Laoximen, a labyrinth of corridors filled with antique furniture.

“This piece of land was bought by my grandfather,” says Yang, whose family has lived in the area since before the Communist Party came to power in 1949.

Most of the neighbors agreed to leave, but Yang stayed, awaiting compensation equal to what he considers “the value of the house.”

According to the local government, Laoximen residents can receive up to 20,000 yuan ($2,962) per square meter, with additional bonuses if they leave early. But an apartment in Shanghai currently costs more than 55,000 yuan per square meter, according to real estate agency Anjuke.

The final demolition was apparently delayed by the pandemic, but workers resumed work after Shanghai emerged from its recent lockdown. “Open and Fair: Promote Old City Renovation,” reads a sign on the wall of what was once a popular restaurant.

Doors and windows were sealed with cement in the streets, where old chairs, doors and boards abound. A short drive from the elegant waterfront of the Bund, Laoximen is one of thousands of Chinatowns whose residents have been relocated and land taken back by the government in the name of progress and redevelopment.

Many of the houses in the neighborhood predate modern building standards and lack centralized heating and plumbing.

Residents are often given new apartments or money to vacate their homes, although some development projects have caused public outrage and fierce conflict in parts of the country.

Replacing Laoximen’s densely crowded alleyways with modern towers could help the city meet its goal of limiting its population to 25 million by 2035. Authorities announced the 2017 target as part of a campaign to curb “big city diseases” as traffic congestion and homelessness.

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