Plans combine best of renovation and development
The new round of development on the North Bund in Hongkou District is a boost for Shanghai's economic development, and a great opportunity for older residents to live a far better life.
Residents from more than 6,000 households have begun relocating from the last remaining massive derelict neighborhood on the North Bund waterfront in Hongkou.
The neighborhood to the south of Kunming Road stands in the core area of the Huangpu River waterfront, where a new round of development has been launched. It aims to become a "global sitting room" of the city.
Residents have been living in crammed quarters without private toilet or kitchen for decades. They will be relocated to modern high-rises in suburban districts, while the region will be redeveloped in line with the future vision of the waterfront.
In the 1980s, most Shanghai residents lived in cramped quarters provided by their employers. Life was described as "rites within a snail's shell" because the average per-capita living space was just 4.5 square meters, among the lowest in China.
Most people have now moved into modern high-rises amid rapid urban development but some still live in old neighborhoods built about 50 years ago. Some households still even use chamber pots.
The city's ongoing jiugai campaign, or renovation of old residential communities, has become the primary solution to improve living conditions. The aim is to remove shantytowns and redevelop the region to help spur the city's economic growth.
The campaign has been deemed the "most challenging" community task, because government solution must satisfy every resident and they must be encouraged to sign up for relocation.
The residents had a choice of moving to designated housing on the outskirts of the city, such as Songjiang and Qingpu districts or remote towns in the Pudong New Area, or to purchase properties of their own with subsidies from the government.
Hongkou District government has announced the official beginning of the last relocation campaign for the North Bund after 98.8 percent of the residents signed up to move elsewhere. The relocation is the largest scale project in Hongkou, with the biggest investment.
It also marks the completion of the relocation process from the massive old neighborhoods in poor condition on the North Bund which was initiated in 2003.
Around 21,000 households have been relocated from the old communities on the North Bund this year, more than the total number in the last eight years, according to the relocation office of Hongkou.
Yang Fengrong, 69, has been living in a 22-square-meter room in Lintong West Community with her husband and son since 1990. During the relocation campaign, she was assigned to move to an ideal new apartment under construction near Gucun Park.
"I have always wanted to move to the park because of the good ecological environment," said Yang.
"My husband and I have been accustomed to walking along the North Bund every night. We want a new place with similar ecological condition."
Yang's neighbor Cai Xiulin, 67, said he had been waiting for the relocation for over three decades. After receiving cash compensation for his 25-square-meter apartment, he can finally move to live near his son's family in north Baoshan District.
"I spend four hours for a return trip to cook for my grandson several times a week," said Cai.
"I feel happy and grateful that I am relocating on the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party of China," he added.
Another senior resident Chen Weiren recalled the difficult life over the last six decades in the old neighborhood – the dark and damp apartment, with cracked walls and windows that can hardly be closed.
Chen served as a volunteer to explain the relocation policies and encouraged his neighbors to sign deals early.
A total of 118 retirees and neighborhood committee officials comprised a relocation team to explain policies and persuade residents to sign the agreements. Retired judges also offered free legal and mediation services for residents with family disputes.
Preserving traditional ambience
According to the blueprint for the area in the east Tilanqiao region, a large piece of historical neighborhoods will be preserved with narrow streets and small blocks. All the old houses will be protected after the residents move out for an expert panel to decide the preservation plan, the district government said.
Shanghai is to renovate another 1.1 million square meters of decrepit old residential communities by 2022 with some structures to be preserved to evoke the city's traditional ambiance.
About 56,000 households will benefit, either being relocated to modern communities or returning to renovated houses with private facilities or better conditions.
Another 484,000 square meters of old neighborhoods will be renovated before the end of 2025 to benefit another 17,000 households, said Yao Kai, director of the city's Housing and Urban-rural Development Commission.
The new-look North Bund, listed as a "new engine" of growth for Shanghai, includes a central business district with high-density office buildings and commercial facilities. The riverside region, covering about 4 square kilometers, will have the same high standards as those in the Lingang Special Area and the Pudong New Area in the east of Shanghai.
About 8.4 million square meters of new construction space has been planned for the waterfront, equivalent to the total amount of urban space in Lujiazui and on both sides of Century Avenue in Pudong. These include dozens of top-level office buildings, which will house about 100 headquarters of multinational firms, international organizations and functional institutes.
Not far away from the waterfront, some 2,500 households are being relocated from a historical neighborhood.
The relocation has been launched at the Shanshouli neighborhood, a typical old lane-style neighborhood built around the 1920s, after almost 98 percent of its residents signed a contract to be relocated with a cash subsidy from the government.
Most of the houses in the neighborhood, covering a total of 110,000 square meters on Jiulong, Daming, Wuchang and Hanyang roads in Hongkou, will be protected after residents move out to preserve one of the city's most typical living environments, according to the planning authority of Hongkou.
There are four historic sites within the neighborhood which are under protective status.
They include the former site of the Tanggu Road Secret Radio Station of the Communist Party of China, a historical warehouse of the city's early ironmongery and electromechanical company, the former site of the Hongkou Police Station and a church built in 1870.
On the map of the North Bund, Shanshouli resembles a butterfly sitting in the core area of the waterfront, which is planned to be a central activity zone and a "new engine" for Shanghai's future development. The neighborhood gained fame after a popular television series "I Will Find You a Better Home" shot scenes there.
"The neighborhood has retained much of the old Shanghai vibe from the view of outsiders, but the residents are actually eager to be relocated due to the poor living conditions," said Zhang Qiurong, Party secretary of the Tanghan Neighborhood Committee of Beiwaitan, or North Bund, subdistrict.
Li Jinfeng, a resident at 124 Tanggu Road, has been living in a 9.8-square-meter room with her son for over two decades. She cooks in a corridor and shares a bathroom with her neighbor.
'New chance for a better life'
"I would abandon most of the old furniture and belongings to prepare for the relocation," said Li.
Despite the limited space, Li has arranged her apartment neatly – a refrigerator, two beds and a foldable table are placed in the "living section," while an overhead cable is used to hang clothes.
When she first moved in after her marriage she was often frightened by mice dropped from the ceiling, but had become accustomed to the creatures.
"It is a good opportunity for the new development of the North Bund as well as a new chance for me to start a new better life," Li said.
Zhang said residents had been calling to confirm and ask about the relocation plan since last month. Li took her son to the relocation office to sign her contract even before the relocation process began.
To avoid infection during the coronavirus pandemic, the relocation office has created a non-contact method to communicate and explain policies to the residents, said Liu Feng, a general manager with the office.
Some old residences in better conditions or with protective status are being preserved to keep the nostalgia of the historical region.
The Chunyangli neighborhood, built around 1921, for instance, will be home to both white-collar workers and the original residents as a result of a major renovation.
The neighborhood is the site of the city's first trial project aimed at modernizing the unique stone-gated buildings while preserving their historic appearance.
Work has been completed on the initial two phases of the project. Over 220 households were temporarily relocated. They have now moved back into their refurbished homes.
Those wanting to rent them out can do so through a government-backed leasing company. This is an initiative of the district government to prevent the neighborhood deteriorating again because of low-end tenants or a single household being rented to a group.
It will also solve a housing shortage for white-collar workers in the North Bund riverside business hub, which is only 10 minutes' walk away.
"Young office workers are welcome to be our neighbors," said Hong Guozhen, a senior resident, who is about to move back to her renovated apartment with her husband.
"I will ask them to dinner if they are too busy to cook themselves," she added.
The historical neighborhood has 23 shikumen townhouses with 1,181 households. Some 60 percent of the owners had long rented out their apartments and lived elsewhere.
Beiwaitan Subdistrict has invited a third-party leasing company, the Chunyangli Property Development Co, to take control of the leasing services.
The "leasing butler service" takes charge of the decoration, renting, maintenance and other daily services to the tenants for the house owner without charging an agency fee. Residents can hand over the apartments to the company for a decade. A reasonable rental has been promised.
The apartments for rent will be mainly targeted at white-collar workers between 25 and 40 years old. The tenants can report any problems to the company around the clock, such as repair requests or utility fee payments.
The Chunyangli neighborhood at 211 Dongyuhang Road is a classic lane-style shikumen compound, listed as a protective heritage zone by the city government in 2016. The district government launched the innovative renovation in 2017.
A shikumen-style building is a combination of Western architecture and China's traditional courtyard structures. They were first built in the 1850s by Europeans living in foreign concessions and are unique to Shanghai.
The fully government-subsidized project replaces the former wooden and brick inner structures – that are rotten, pose a fire risk, and have mice and cockroach infestation – with steel beams and other fire-resistance materials.
The stone gate, the most iconic part of the shikumen building, and the exterior walls are preserved. Each household can gain an additional 3.5 square meters of space on average and the layout has become more practical.
At the core region of the waterfront, a renovation project has been completed on two nearly century-old downtown shikumen neighborhoods which include the installation of private or shared toilets for residents who were still using chamber pots.
In the "1-square-meter project," a total of 240 toilets have been installed for the Jinyangli and Taoyuanli neighborhoods near the North Bund.
Designers took roughly a square meter from living spaces from eligible households, and rearranged pipelines without damaging the brick-and-wood buildings, for toilet installations.
It has helped 70 percent of the households in the neighborhoods, both built around the 1920s, get rid of the chamber pots they had used for decades, according to the subdistrict.
"I used to empty chamber pots for a family of eight every day," said Dai Weiying, a 71-year-old resident at the Jinyangli neighborhood.
"We also had to walk two blocks to a public bathhouse every night in summer to take a bath."
Thanks to the project, subsidized by the city and district governments, a toilet with a shower has been installed in a former kitchen.
"At least I don't have to empty chamber pots or go to public bathhouses which are vanishing in the city," Dai said.