Merger combines the best of both in an exciting new setting

Jing'an, Zhabei have proven remarkably complementary and open to change
Ti Gong

When Jing’an merged with the former district Zhabei two years ago, many wondered if the marriage creating the new Jing’an district would be successful. The “partners” certainly appeared disparate.

Jing’an was essentially a buzzing commercial hub, dotted with historic villas, modern apartments and classy shopping malls. It was the face of Shanghai’s future.

Zhabei, by contrast, sat on the other side of the Suzhou Creek — a district of old factories and blue-collar residences. It suffered from an urban stereotype as a backward, underclass area of Shanghai.

Together, Jing’an and Zhabei have proven remarkably compatible and complementary.

Here are some of the examples.

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

A smarter commercial hub of Nanjing Road W.

Big data, better retail 

Two years ago, Shanghai ranked among the leading cities of the world in pioneering the concept of “smart commercial zones.” The concept was initiated in seven popular shopping areas, including Nanjing Road W.

“We built WiFi and calculated the volume of foot traffic to inform shopping malls on how to avoid the kinds of excess crowds that can lead to safety issues,” said Lu Jun,

a commerce authority official in Jing’an.

The game changer was the Shanghai Data Exchange, set up last year in the Shibei High Technology Park based in old Zhabei.

Smart commercial zones need smart brains, and China’s leading big data center provided that.

Tang Qifeng, the man behind the center, drafted a clear blueprint.

“We have to understand the forces that impact retailers,” Tang said.

Now there is an upgraded version of the project.

“The previous version was designed for the government to help manage retailers,” said Zhao Jian, vice chairman of the Jing’an Commerce Commission.

“The new version can serve retailers by helping them operate businesses more efficiently. By analyzing big data, we can identify what class of consumers is most drawn to a particular kind of shopping mall. That gives retailers the opportunity of adjusting merchandise to attract the most customers.”

Tang said the data are collected from various channels, including WiFi access and UnionPay transfers.

“Within an hour, we can draw a profile of the kind of consumer who likes a particular mall — for example, a man in his 30s, who lives in a high-end community in Changning and earns a hefty salary working for a financial company in Pudong,” he said.

Zhao said the artificial intelligence that lies behind big data is very reliable and easier than direct survey modes.

“For example, we could distribute thousands of questionnaires on the street to study whether people like a given shopping mall or not,” he said. “Now we can see something like a man leaving a store with a happy face, which directly implies that he likes the store.”

In the future, the system will be further upgraded to include other services, such as restaurants.

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Services from child-care to English lessons are offered in the Qipu Road clothing market, workplace of many migrants.

Better workplaces 

It’s not an easy job to satisfy every tenant in an office building housing dozens of firms and thousands of employees. But Xiao Suhua has made that happen.

At her suggestion, the Kaidike Building near Nanjing Road W. created a rooftop amenities area, providing a canteen for workers, a barber shop and other services that make the lives of employees more convenient and pleasurable.

“Desk jockeys like to take a walk or play badminton in the rooftop recreation area during their noon break,” said Xiao, who heads up the building’s labor union federation. “They like a canteen that serves up delicious but affordable meals. We do everything to cater to their needs.”

The service also hosts social events where employees from different company offices can get to know one another.

The concept is now being replicated in old Zhabei. The Qipu Road clothing market, which includes wholesale and retail companies, is one example.

Shao Zhan, a social worker from the Beizhan Community, visited Xiao last year and was taken with the idea of creating amenities for workers.

“What I learned from her was persistence,” said Shao. “The idea is a bit more complicated to adopt here because Xiao was dealing with a single building and we are dealing with 10 buildings in the market. We have to be very patient and listen to what people working there need.”

He added, “Most of those people are migrant workers who don’t have much time to care for their children. So we provide free childcare service during the summer school break and other holidays in the year.”

Wang Tingfen, who has been working in the clothing market for 17 years, said she is appreciative of the new service.

“Previously, I was constantly worried about what to do with my children when school was out,” she said. “I had to send them to my parents in our rural

hometown. But now, the children can stay with me and be cared for by professionals when I am at work.”

The market also hosts a number of free activities, like English classes and women’s health courses. There is also a corner where workers can rest and read books.

Ti Gong

 The historic Yugucun residential complex has been restored to its by-gone glory, with interior apartments brought up to modern standards

Happy homes 

Earlier this year, Han Bohan moved to a new home in the Daning area.

She pays a less-than-2,000 yuan (US$291) month rent for a furnished one-bedroom flat on the 15th floor of an apartment block. It comes equipped with television, air conditioning, a microwave oven, refrigerator and washing machine.

The rent is almost half what she used to pay for older accommodation in a six-floor building near the Jing’ansi area, which she shared with a roommate.

“I love the new location,” said Han, 27. “It’s convenient to my job, to shopping and to entertainment venues.”

Indeed, retail shops are just around the corner, and a Metro station is a kilometer away.

Han is among nearly 200 employees at China Everbright Securities who are enjoying the benefits of a new public rental housing program especially designed for Jing’an-based firms.

“We want to provide inexpensive, quality apartments to young workers to keep them firmly rooted here in Jing’an,” said Zhao Zhengxiang, an official from the district housing authority.

He added, “Available space for such a project in the old Jing’an district was too tight, but the merger with Zhabei changed that.”

A housing rehabilitation in old Zhabei was expanded across the merged district, cleaning up dilapidated living environments.

Unlike Zhabei, where it was relatively easy to raze rundown, old buildings and construct new residences, many of Jing’an’s old buildings are under protected status, like Yugucun.

It is a community of wood-and-brick structures built more than 80 years ago.

Jin Shu, 75, who was born there, remembers her childhood living with parents and grandparents in a house featuring an elegant fireplace, Western-style bathroom and curved staircase.

But later, the house was partitioned into smaller flats for multiple occupation. Families had to share kitchen and toilet facilities. As time passed, water pipes rusted, electricity wires frayed and roofs started to leak.

“We aim to renovate the building to its former look,” said neighborhood Party chief Wu Jiaping. “We are wrapping new water pipes with tubing. We have ordered tiles to replace old broken ones.”

Each family in the renovated flats now has their own kitchen and toilet.

Ti Gong

 Sculptures in Daning Park.

Diversified neighborhoods 

Old Jing’an boasts many time-honored brands, from the popular Wangjiasha eatery to renowned Kaikai clothes.

“Previously, many residents had to travel downtown to Nanjing Road W. to take advantage of these brands,” said Wang Yajing, an official with the Daning Road Community.

Beginning in 2016, the commerce authority began organizing outdoor markets in old Zhabei to sell renowned brands.

“Local residents really like the markets,” Wang said. “They know the merchandise is safe and of high quality. They love to buy treats from Wangjiasha and Xiqu Laodafang’s famous marinated eggs.” This month, the community has organized 15 markets. Next year, the number and locations of the markets will be expanded.

Meanwhile, the biennale sculpture exhibition originally held in the Jing’an Sculpture Park has also been displayed in Daning Park and the Ming Contemporary Art Museum of old Zhabei.

Ti Gong

Residents in the Daning area cluster at a popular outdoor market famous for quality merchandise. 

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