Foreigner Street to find a new home
Shanghai’s Lao Wai Jie, or Foreigner Street, is likely to be relocated to allow the dismantling of illegal structures, according to a city official.
“The structures on Lao Wai Jie were built temporarily after 1999 to make life convenient for nearby residents,” said Wang Mingqiang, director of housing administration at the city’s housing and urban-rural construction and management commission.
Their temporary permits expired in 2005, he said.
In addition, a national inspection had found environmental problems with catering enterprises along the Xuhong railway, a branch line connecting the Shanghai-Hangzhou line and Hongqiao International Airport. Local authorities have been asked to rectify them.
All the other illegal parts of the stretch had been cleaned up and work on Lao Wai Jie was under way, Wang said.
The street, which used to be a station for former Chairman Mao Zedong’s special train, became a garbage dumping ground for nearby residents and enterprises after the railway and station was abandoned around 1998, Wang said.
The area was being developed at that time and the authorities built some temporary structures to house restaurants and bars for the convenience of local residents.
Wang said the area, with its large number of residential complexes, was not an ideal place for a commercial street like Lao Wai Jie.
He said discussions were under way with Minhang’s district government to guide successful restaurants to move to nearby Xianfeng Street.
“We are going to end the illegal Lao Wai Jie, but I believe the restaurants will get better on a legal one,” he said.
Lao Wai Jie gained a reputation as a gathering place for foreigners living or working in the nearby international communities of Gubei and Hongqiao.
It has around 35 restaurants and bars, providing dishes from many different areas of China as well as offering the cuisine of more than 10 countries, including Germany, France, Thailand and Japan.
Restaurants with tables outdoors are very popular in hot summer evenings but that has led to complaints from nearby residents when diners celebrate well into the early hours.
Wang said Lao Wai Jie had originally been planned as public green space.
“Many residents have complained to the government for its failure to keep the promise,” he said.
They also complained about the noise and the pollution from restaurants on the street.
Some restaurants admitted they had conflicts with local residents due to loud music and noisy customers.
“Some residents called the street management office while some even called the police,” said a staff member at Big Bamboo.
George Qian, who manages restaurant and bar La Seine, said he had seen residents throw excrement at the street during more boisterous activities, such as a beer festival held by another restaurant.
A resident surnamed Chen, who lives in the Hongyan complex neighboring the street, said the noise was annoying as it mainly occurred in the evening.
“Lao Wai Jie is quiet in the daytime but becomes buzzing in the evening,” he said. “Some people speak loud and even fight after drinking alcohol, even when it is bedtime for us.”
This became worse during sporting occasions, he said, such as the Olympics or the World Cup.
He also said Lao Wai Jie had led to traffic jams on the surrounding roads.
However, he did concede that the noise and pollution situation had been improving in recent years.
Zhang Wucai, deputy manger of the street management company, said: “We’ve asked all restaurants to install soundproof doors and banned them from inviting bands to stage live performances.”
“No loudspeakers are allowed outdoors, and we also put up decibel meters and bulletins along the street to remind them not to be too noisy,” he said.
“Kitchen ventilators are also required to be upgraded to the latest national standards to reduce pollution of the environment.”
Qian said the management office helped them communicate with nearby residents, asking them for understanding at special times, such as during the World Cup, and compensating them with gifts, including fruit or coupons for the restaurants.
Such efforts had improved relations between restaurants and residents, but Wang pointed out that it could not change the fact that the structures are now illegal.
Zhang said that all current lease agreements were signed with expiry dates up to the end of 2019, but added that he had no idea whether or when the constructions would be torn down.
Venezuelan Alegandro Pett, who works in a nearby office building, said he had lunch on the street two or three times a week.
“It’s very convenient and the lunch is good,” he said. “The Hongqiao area does not have so many international restaurants. If it disappears, where should we go?”
Bodo Greulich, a German who has worked in Shanghai for more than four years, was drinking beer at a German restaurant on Saturday afternoon.
“I live at the Longbai Hotel and come here frequently,” he said.
“It’s very convenient and the environment is good with so many green plants. You can see many foreigners and Chinese here. People like it here.”
“It has taken so many years to develop a street like this,” he added. “It’s a pity to close it.”