Renovation of a downtown community will be a new kind of attempt by the city to protect its remaining lane districts.
The Yonglefang neighborhood was built by the Wing On company 88 years ago. Wing On ran one of the city’s biggest department stores. The homes of its senior clerks will begin their journey to redemption at the end of the month.
The Sichuan Road N. project is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year and will be an example for remaining old residential neighborhoods. The aim is to protect the historical ambiance while improving the living standards of inhabitants.
The renovation will mainly deal with public areas, including shared kitchens and toilets, said Fang Qiong, Party secretary of Yongmei neighborhood committee that takes charge of the area. The 75-year-old Fang has lived in the community since she married her husband more than 50 years ago. Her father-in-law was head of the textile department of the Wing On Department Store on Nanjing Road E.
Overhead cables will be buried, the cement pavement will be resurfaced, and residents will be given help to install new awnings and laundry racks.
Shared kitchens and toilets, mostly on the ground floors, will remain shared, but will be refitted with modern equipment.
Residents, mostly retirees who have spent half a century in the neighborhood, were not reluctant to talk about the restoration yesterday.
“Our homes are getting upgraded and their prices will surge,” Kang Meijun, a retired literature teacher with Nanhu Vocational School, shouted when Fang paid a visit.
The neighborhood on a prosperous commercial street was once a luxury community and only senior company officials were allowed to live there, Kang said.
One family used to own each three-story house. The pavement was tidy and the community beautiful and quiet, Kang recalled. The situation changed when more residents moved in and many apartments were rented to businesses.
Dozens of stores opened on both Sichuan Road N. and Hailun Road W., mainly restaurants. The cooks prepare food and wash vegetables in the streets behind. Elderly residents need to watch out on the slippery road.
A total of 531 households live in the neighborhood, mostly squeezed into cramped rooms of about 20 square meters. Very few households have private kitchens or toilets.
However, most of the buildings are well-preserved. The red brick and wooden window frames still shine, and some of the original wooden fences have been retained. Water meters, for instance, are still shared by all households in a single building which often causes disputes.
Kang’s neighbor, 88-year-old Zhu Jinxiu is one of the oldest residents. She moved into her small apartment in 1949.
“The renovation will at least make the neighborhood look tidier,” Zhu said. Her kitchen, shared with another household, was originally a path to a bomb shelter. The wooden stairway leading to her room is so narrow that two people can barely walk side-by-side. A washing machine in the corridor makes the public place smaller.
“Frankly, we’re happy to be relocated, though we do have emotional bonds to the place,” Zhu said. The neighborhood is right on Sichuan Road N. with its many popular grocery stores and eateries. Shanghai No. 4 Hospital is five minutes’ walk away.
Party secretary Fang said the neighborhood committee had opened a WeChat account to encourage residents to submit suggestions about the renovation.
“Most residents have a deep affection for the neighborhood and are happy to help the housing authority carry out the renovation,” Fang said.
The city government has plans to protect about 90 percent of downtown lilong (lane-style) houses. Many innovative protective measures have been carried out. About 2 kilometers from Yonglefang, the first-phase renovation of Chunyangli is complete. Residents were moved out temporarily during the work. The practice is expected to be expanded to Jinyangli and Taoyuanli, two neighborhoods in Hongkou.
In Chengxingli, a shikumen (stone-gate) community on Beijing Road W. known for its annual “alley games,” some residents have been relocated, while others chose to remain.