Renovated old street captivates visitors
Chen Meifang, a long-time resident of Minhang's Qibao Old Street, moved out in the 1990s to rent a house elsewhere when the historic street became desolate.
A timely renovation in 2000 saved it as an ancient town and a place where tourists can feel the "poems and dreams" and residents can relive a childhood wandering through its lanes.
Following the facelift, Chen returned to her former residence in Lane 44, Beidajie Street.
"I'd been living elsewhere for the past two decades. My home's condition has improved, and the surrounding area has changed dramatically as a result of the facelift," Chen said.
The old street is now bustling with tourists and full of glitz during festivals and holidays, but it was the site of a contentious debate more than two decades ago over whether to demolish it or preserve and renovate it.
"The majority of its architectural structures date back to the Republic of China period (1912-1949) and have remained largely unchanged for the past 80 or 90 years," said Zhu Julin, a compiler of Qibao's history. "Many houses became dilapidated and posed significant safety hazards," said Zhu Julin, who witnessed the street's renovation.
Chen's residence had no bathroom, and the family used night stools.
"The roads were muddy, and we had difficulty walking outside on rainy days," Chen recalled.
Finally, the voices in favor of reservation and renovation outweighed those in favor of demolition.
Qibao Town government established Qibao Ancient Town Industrial Development Co, a renovation command and a cultural consultant team in 2000. The renovation of Qibao Old Street then began in earnest.
The scope of the renovation included Fuqiang Street in the south, Qingnian Road in the north, Hengli Road in the east and Yutang Street in the west.
In the first stage, the Puhuitang River Bridge, as well as the Nandajie and Beidajie streets, were renovated, along with the construction of two leisure squares. Houses along riverbanks were renovated in the second stage, and all pipes and lines were installed underground.
"The Puhuitang River Bridge had three arches, two of which were out of shape. It had a shed on it," said Zhu. "We checked on historic items and discovered that the shed was constructed in the 1960s to primarily shelter vendors on rainy days. So, we did not include the shed in our renovation. You can now see the bridge as it is today."
The consultants suggested that the Beidajie Street should display artifacts and keep the Nandajie Street for food and snacks.
On December 31, 2001, phase one of Qibao Old Street opened to the public, attracting a large number of downtown residents.
All pipes and lines, including sewage, running water and natural gas pipes, as well as elevated electric and wired TV lines, were buried underground during phase-two construction in the spring of 2002.
Chen's house now has a private bathroom, its exterior walls have been whitewashed, and all the roads have been repaved. Chen and her family decided to return and decorated the interior of the house.
"When we finished decoration, it became a sample room on the old street. Other residents came to see it. It is fully equipped now," Chen said.
The neighborhood committee members were relieved that the typhoons and torrential rain that used to flood the old street was no longer a problem. The business environment on the old street is also improving.
Huang Jilong, a former cake vendor on the old street, opened the Tianxianglou Restaurant in 2004. The restaurant has become synonymous with Qibao Old Street.
"Initially, the majority of our customers were local elderly people. As a result, our restaurant served Shanghai-style cuisine," Huang said.
"Gradually, more out-of-town visitors began to arrive. Then we added some Cantonese and Sichuan dishes. We are constantly adapting our menu to meet the needs of tourists from all over the world," said the 68-year-old restaurant owner.
It was doing well.
Sometimes, he had to persuade some customers to leave because all the seats were taken. The business peaked during the World Expo Shanghai 2010, with some dishes being ordered over 150 times.