The latest urban renewal project on Yuyuan Road perfectly blends history and art, tradition and modernity.
A derelict house in Changning District near the entrance of Hongye Garden has become Yuyuan Public Market. It is an ordinary local market where residents can buy traditional Shanghai breakfast foods such as youtiao (fried dough stick), dabing (flat bread) and soybean milk. It is a standard array of shoe repairers and you can get new keys cut or fix a broken umbrella.
Upstairs Su Shanghai, a community art museum, was created in tandem with the Liu Haisu Art Museum. It is a place where people can enjoy free exhibitions, read books or relax with neighbors.
The market is already open but will be fully operating by the end of February when a wet market featuring organic food with traceable origins and another art gallery will be unveiled.
The Yuyuan Road project represents the best in urban renewal principles, merging the needs of residents in old neighborhoods with art and modern lifestyles, according to CREATER, the firm in charge of the work.
The two-story building once served as a dormitory for neighboring Shanghai Workers College of Medical Science. The developer took over the decrepit structure and began renovation work a year ago.
“The building had no value to us residents, apart from its public shower room,” said Dai Linyu, a 60-year-old who was born in the community. “Now it has turned into a very delightful neighborhood facility.”
The neighborhood features nine garden villas built around the 1920s to accommodate overseas Chinese, celebrities, rich businessmen and politicians. Pianist Gu Shengying (1937-1967) once lived in one of the villas.
After decades of neglect, the buildings were somewhat careworn and scruffy, and the neighborhood lacked public space or even a grocery store, according to Dai.
“We couldn’t buy breakfast locally or get our shoes repaired, especially after the crackdown on unlicensed stalls,” she explained.
Wu Xingxiang, a popular cobbler from neighboring Jiangsu Province who ran an unlicensed shoe repair stall in the neighborhood with his father for five decades, has been invited back to set up business legally on the first floor of the new market.
A seamstress and locksmith have also been invited. All such small businesses are granted low rents.
“I must offer a better service to the community in thanks for this new opportunity,” said Wu, 50, who inherited the business from his father and had been working under a plane tree opposite the market for nearly two decades.
Traditional services never lose their popularity.
Wu repairs 20 pairs of shoes a day on average. His reputation for quality work even attracts customers from other neighborhoods.
Traditional eateries have also been summoned back. A small dumpling restaurant, for instance, has reopened, and its former 9-meter-square street stall has been turned into a mini art gallery named 9m2.
Upstairs, the Su Shanghai community art museum has an eye-catching installation in the former corridor of the dormitory which has become a popular site for taking selfies.
The colors of the installation are said to have been inspired by the masterpiece Huangshan Mountain by Liu Haisu (1896-1994).
“The core idea is to bring modern art, often out of reach of many residents, into their community,” said Joseph Peng, the artist in charge of the museum.
Peng, 53, a Taiwan native, was once an engineer and later ran a coffee business in the city.
The art museum invites young artists to exhibit. Two photo exhibitions are running now, including one of historical photos of Yuyuan Road. The other is a collection of photos of hundreds of old mailboxes from surrounding communities.
Visitors can rent an instant camera from Peng to create their own pictures of the road and exhibit them in a section at the museum.
Children are invited to paint or read in a nearby space in an effort to wean them off electronic devices.
Residents are welcome to drink a cup of coffee made by Peng, chat with the artists or throw a party in the public space.
Many stories from residents inspire the artists, Peng said. One photographer was so touched by a senior volunteer at the former residence of scientist Qian Xuesen (1911-2009) that he took a set of photos, now part of the exhibition.
The public market will be expanded by redeveloping more abandoned structures of the former medical college. CREATER has also taken charge of other projects on Yuyuan Road.
The road — which dates back to 1911, the final year of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) — runs through the districts of Changning and Jing’an. In recent decades it has been shortened to its current length of 800 meters.
The city government has listed the road as one of 64 historical streets that cannot be widened to preserve feel of the neighborhood. The road is one of the 12 protected historical and cultural zones in the downtown area.