Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Fate of Shikumen Districts

This is to follow up on my update about Old Shanghai, and the Shikumen that define the area. A favorite area is in the center of the historical old city, south of Yuyuan Gardens, where a large network of narrow roads and lanes criss-cross haphazardly. It's a dense and confusing jumble, it feels like nowhere else in Shanghai, and it's all getting torn down, inevitably to make way for massive apartment towers like those in the background:

I have mixed opinions. As stated in the last update, I'd never even consider living in a classical shikumen or row house. They're an old style of housing that don't allow for privacy or often even running water. They were built to last a much shorter time than they've actually lasted, and they're relatively low-density housing on incredibly expensive real estate, in a rapidly growing city. At the same time, they have a strong and distinct character, whereas I can almost guarantee that the apartment complex going up will basically be a concrete box, with no real character to it other than a few tacky pseudo-Grecian statues littered about the grounds.

Wandering around the area has an eerie feeling to it. There's piles of debris or shells of houses with only rubble inside, the area feels something like a bomb went off:

The area is being destroyed bit by bit, perhaps it has to do with relocating the current residents. How they are relocated varies, but usually they're given an apartment way the hell out in Pudong somewhere. But there's other schemes, and I've been to modern tony apartment complexes which also have a number of residents who lived on the location before the apartments were built.

Oddly enough, the neighborhoods still seem pretty vital, people hurriedly going about their lives:

But there's reminders that it's temporary, and as on the right, many of the buildings have the character for "demolish" written on the side.

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