Good riddance to cramped houses on historical arcade road

Yang Jian
Residents have begun to be relocated from characteristic qilou, or arcade houses, on Jinling Road E.
Yang Jian
Good riddance to cramped houses on historical arcade road
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Li Lixia, 65, enjoys life in her small but tidy apartment on Jinling Road E. in Huangpu District, but she and some 2,000 other households being relocated.

Residents have begun to move out of a century-old downtown community of qilou, or arcade houses, ahead of restoration of the neighborhood.

The first residents hopped on trucks waiting along Jinling Road E. in Huangpu District on Sunday morning, saying goodbye and good riddance to decades in cramped quarters, using chamber pots and with no private kitchens.

Most of the some 2,000 households in Baoxingli, an old lane-style neighborhood built in 1916, quickly put their names on the dotted line when the relocation process began.

They have a choice of moving to designated housing on the outskirts of the city such as Songjiang, Qingpu districts or remote towns in the Pudong New Area, or to purchase properties on their own with cash subsidies from the government.

After they move out, a major project will bring back the popularity of the once busy commercial street. The unique architecture will be preserved and become offices, shops and quality homes, said Gao Yun, Party secretary of Huangpu.

"The road features the city's most characteristic qilou architecture, so it must be protected," said Gao. 

Qilou is a fusion of traditional Asian architecture and the 18th century Western veranda style, with some Indian and Arabic influences thrown in. These houses are found chiefly in south and southwest China.

Jinling Road E. has Shanghai's most famous qilou cluster. The road, formerly known as Rue du Consulat, was built by the French in the 1850s and was home to the French consulate, said Xue Liyong, a historian and researcher with Shanghai History Museum.

Developers introduced in the arcades, similar to those in Paris, after the road was widened to accommodate modern traffic.

Good riddance to cramped houses on historical arcade road
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Workers and trucks wait on Jinling Road E. on Sunday.

Good riddance to cramped houses on historical arcade road
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

One of the first residents to relocate from Baoxingli neighborhood on Jinling Road E., Li Pinghua (second right), 58, shares her plans with her neighbors.

As recently as the 1980s, the arcade, which is about a kilometer long, was a thriving shopping street, one of the city's four most prosperous commercial streets on par with Nanjing Road E., Huaihai Road M. and Sichuan Road N.

In recent years, its fortunes have dwindled. Stores have closed and many of the buildings have fallen into disrepair. Living conditions have likewise deteriorated.

Ni Longkou, 68, was among the first to sign the relocation papers to move out of the 8.8-square-meter apartment that she has occupied for nearly half a century.

"My husband and daughter slept on the floor for decades due to the limited space," Ni said. "We had to eat, cook, bathe and sleep together in this tiny  room."

Ni's family received over 3 million yuan (US$350,000) in compensation and will purchase an apartment near her daughter in Hongkou District.

"I have no regrets about being relocated," Ni said.

Her neighbor Li Pinghua, 58, shares her joy. Her ground-floor apartment floods frequently during the rainy season, sometimes knee-deep, Li said.

Good riddance to cramped houses on historical arcade road
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Xu Mei, 43, says goodbye with a neighbor who also served as her Chinese teacher.

Good riddance to cramped houses on historical arcade road
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Residents prepare their belongings on Sunday ahead of the big move.

Some residents are reluctant to leave the central neighborhood, only about 15 minutes' walk from Nanjing Road Pedestrian Mall, People's Square and the Bund.

Li Lixia, 65, who was born in the downtown area, said she would rather stay than to move to the remote outskirts.

"It is my habit to take a walk along Nanjing Road E. after dinner," Li said. "Where else can I enjoy such convenience?" she complained, though she has also signed the relocation agreement.

Li's apartment of over 30 square meters on three floors is exquisitely kept. The first floor has a shower room and toilet. The upper floors are the living and bed rooms. A table sits in the corridor.

"I will definitely miss my life here after moving elsewhere, no matter how luxurious the new apartment turns out to be," Li said.

Huangpu District has the largest number of remaining old residential complexes downtown. Over 55,000 households are still using chamber pots, communal toilets and kitchens. Over 12,000 were relocated last year and another 8,000 households will move out in 2020. The current focus is on the old town near Yuyuan Garden, the residential area around Xintiandi and the riverside along Suzhou Creek on Beijing Road E.

Huangpu aims to have chamber pots eliminated from downtown by 2025. Apart from the renovations, some lane-style neighborhoods with traditional lifestyles are being preserved and renovated. A trial in Chengxingli, a shikumen community on Beijing Road W., has seen some residents move out while renovating the living spaces of those who chose to remain.

Good riddance to cramped houses on historical arcade road
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Few are sad to see the back of their old apartments in Baoxingli.

Good riddance to cramped houses on historical arcade road
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

A dragon dance on Jinling Road E. celebrates the exodus.

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