An urban renewal project breathes new life into a former workers' residential complex

Yang Yang Gao Mingjing
A former workers' apartment complex in Wujing Town, Minhang District, is undergoing urban redevelopment.
Yang Yang Gao Mingjing

Editor's note:

The Wujing Residential Area in Minhang District is undergoing urban redevelopment to improve living conditions for the 2,115 households involved. The redevelopment plan will convert non-private apartments into private ones and add more bathrooms and kitchens. The community has mobilized to demonstrate support for those affected by the renovations.

An urban renewal project breathes new life into a former workers' residential complex
Ti Gong

Portions of the Wujing Residential Area are under renovation. It is the largest and most challenging urban redevelopment area in Minhang District.

The largest and most challenging urban redevelopment area in Minhang District is the Wujing Residential Area in Lane 5530 Longwu Road. There are still signs directing people to the now-closed public restroom.

When the city's industrial boom was just beginning, the residential neighborhood was a much-sought-after apartment complex in Shanghai in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

But after almost six decades in use, the community has expressed its inconvenience at the state of affairs at the complex.

Originally housing industrial workers from "Five Golden Flowers" (Shanghai Carbon Plant, Shanghai Coking Plant, Wujing Chemistry Plant, Shanghai Electrification Plant and Wujing Thermal Power Plant), the neighborhood's interior housing structures are intricate and, in some ways, dysfunctional.

There are over 20 different types of apartment models available; it is typical for four, eight or even 10 households to share a corridor; 46 of its buildings contain non-private apartments; and 80 percent of its residents share bathrooms and kitchens.

"There are doors inside doors and homes inside homes," some tenants said. "Finding my home on my floor is like walking inside a maze where my bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and sitting room are scattered in different corners."

Providing the residents with separate apartments and separate kitchens and toilets is a hard task.

The Minhang government approved a redevelopment plan for the neighborhood in March 2021 that calls for the conversion of 46 buildings that house non-private apartments into private ones. There are 2,115 households involved, and the total construction area covers 92,000 square meters.

In the following February, Wujing Town initiated renovation work on three buildings, Units 95, 96 and 97. It set up an elevator space to accommodate the needs of the elderly.

An urban renewal project breathes new life into a former workers' residential complex
Ti Gong

Residents, mostly nice elderly people, enjoy a convenient life in the Wujing community.

Moving back to 'sample flats'

In June of the same year, the residents began to move back to their "sample flats," which gave a glimpse of urban renewal.

Zhang Shuren is a retired employee of former Shanghai Carbon Plant and lives in Unit 96.

"I managed to secure the final opportunity of allotment of welfare housing from my company during a period of strong corporate performance, and I acquired ownership of my apartment in 1999," Zhang said.

"My neighborhood is the oldest residential area in Wujing. It was built in 1958 to support factory management. Families of the workers moved in to live in the buildings. Initially, there were eight or nine of them, and croplands made up the remaining clearings. The neighborhood grew as the industry in this area developed.

"It's becoming older now. Its amenities, like the few street lamps, are outdated. Most of the residents are elderly, retired workers with meager pensions. So, maintenance is a difficult task."

Of course, the neighborhood has its advantages.

It is convenient because a commercial street in the workers' neighborhood has been preserved and now houses a wet market, a fruit store, a dry cleaner, fish vendors, and even a tourism agency. It is safe because many of the neighborhood's residents are nice elderly people.

This time, the renovation project included fencing off the construction sites, removing the electrical cables, gas and water pipes, and a convex structure in the north that the families typically use as a balcony or second bedroom. Lastly, the apartments are being expanded northward.

This way, more bathrooms and kitchens can be added.

"Though my second bedroom is reduced, my sitting room is expanded, and so is the total space. I'm quite satisfied and agree to the project," Zhang said.

He saw the restoration process as a whole as a convoluted narrative with a joyful ending.

"I lived in a separate apartment with a kitchen and bathroom of my own. However, my neighbors who reside in non-private apartments would still be in bad shape if I had voted against the project since it would not have been possible to complete the renovations without skipping a floor," Zhang added.

"I approved of the plan. The incentives and comprehensive construction designs for our building were released. With ours making a successful sample, all residents of another six buildings signed an agreement for the renovation project. The project boss was thrilled, as it allowed him to plan everything out and work more effectively.

"Some of my neighbors who lived elsewhere and had rented out their non-private flats were first hesitant to sign the paperwork for the elevator installation plan. They eventually consented to join after putting themselves in my position."

Having sciatica on his legs, Zhang is thrilled now since he can use the elevator in the building.

"My elderly next-door neighbor suffered a stroke. The elevator is a big help to him.

"The tenants are content, particularly those who had previously lived in shared apartments. I can tell from their eyes."

An urban renewal project breathes new life into a former workers' residential complex
Ti Gong

The interior of a renovated apartment

An urban renewal project breathes new life into a former workers' residential complex

Empathy in mobilization

The residential neighborhood has so far initiated its urban renewal mobilization on four batches of its 29 buildings. The final 1,156 occupants signed a consent form for the renovations on December 27 last year.

"Some of the residents were out of town. We found ways for them to sign the agreement papers," said Luo Zujiang, Party secretary of the Wujing Residential Area Community Committee.

"There was a soldier who was serving in a neighboring province and could not take leave. We visited him and processed the papers," Luo said.

A command group has been established to mobilize the people to participate in the home renewal project. Members of the group would first enlighten the inhabitants about the renovation process and how it would be carried out. They then addressed more queries in detail.

The residents received bonuses and subsidies when they agreed to vacate for renovations.

After a formal notice was submitted, they moved out and gave their keys to the construction teams.

"It was critical to demonstrate empathy and put ourselves in the shoes of the residents," Jiang Ting, a member of the leadership team, said.

"There was an elderly person who was in poor health and received a guaranteed minimum income. She was hesitant to leave because she was concerned about how her elderly care meals would be delivered and how she would continue to receive health care from her doctor at the community health care center," Jiang explained.

"Then we suggested her a temporary apartment at a very close location so that both the elderly care meals and the community health care would still be delivered successfully," Jiang said.

Some residents have returned to their restored homes. The first house rental contract was issued on December 26 and the first property ownership certificate was granted on January 12.

An urban renewal project breathes new life into a former workers' residential complex
Ti Gong

An industrial landscape can be seen from the Wujing neighborhood walls.

Special Reports