Out with the Old
25 Jun 2005
Last December when I first moved into my current apartment near Zhongshan Park, I take one look out the 20th floor window at the old buildings across the river and thought, “those won’t last long.” It wasn’t just that they were old; they were clearly of low quality as well. What’s more, on every side were highrise apartment complexes. I felt pretty sure those structures were doomed.
Here is the only picture I have of that whole area. (Unfortunately it’s a bad picture of Chinese New Year fireworks, so you can’t see the buildings very clearly.)
Here is another picture of the same area, taken last month. The demolition began in early May, I believe.
If you look carefully you can see which buildings were taken out. The residential area at the left is still intact, but I’m certain it’s only a matter of time.
It seems to be popular among some expat circles to mourn the loss of these “traditional” dwellings. Personally, I think that’s ridiculous. I’ve seen the buildings on the left close up, and they are constructed extremely shoddily. You hear about third world living conditions in Shanghai — well, this is one of those places. Those buildings–like most buildings in Shanghai–are not even very old. They were just built with inferior materials, so they seem like they have real history. If Shanghai wants to modernize, it really needs to tear down as many of this kind of building as possible and start building quality structures in their places.
I’m not completely heartless, though. There’s a tragedy here, and it’s about the people. (Isn’t it always, in China?) The people that live in that area live in those wretched conditions because they’re poor. Knocking down their homes doesn’t help them at all; it just means they’ll be forced to relocate, while rich people move into the new highrise that’s built on the ruins of their old homes.
You know this kind of thing goes on every day in Shanghai, but it feels strange, watching it happen bit by bit from my very own home…