There Goes the Neighbourhood! (part 1)

This is Baidu Lu (Street).  It’s quite a short street that runs east-west just south of one of Shanghai’s main roads, Fuxing Lu.  And it is undergoing a major make-over.

In the distance, at the eastern end of the street and closer to Huangpu River, you can see several new apartment buildings, clustered together in a complex that also contains office buildings, restaurants and gymnasium, and a massive underground car park.   And, in front, the remains of how the street once looked – a jumble of street-side shops, with residences above, arranged around a network of laneways and pedestrian pathways.  Of course, it’s already being demolished, to make way for more the new stuff.  So, I thought it was worth documenting it before it is razed … all the name of “progress” …

No-one could argue that the architecture is beautiful.  In fact, I assume that no architect would have been involved in its conception or construction.  These buildings would have been built quickly and cheaply, and haven’t seen much in the way of maintenance since.

Nonetheless, they have a certain charm.  The scale is nice, especially measured against the contemporary multi-lane motorways and tower blocks of the modern city.

In particular, I like the little laneways that run through these neighbourhoods.  (See my follow-up post for a closer look inside the neighbourhood…)

The streets and lanes traditionally would have been – and to some extent, still are – full of activity, from the manufacture and selling of goods, cooking and washing (laundry, crockery, small children, motor scooters), and of course, transportation of people and stuff.

Or, often inactivity.  Amidst the noise and chaos, one can still grab a snooze.

Buildings seemed governed by a set of principles that could be straight out of City Planning for Dummies.  Building to the street edge.  Creating an active frontage (eg retail).  Building height to relate to the human scale.  Use of consistent materials and detailing.

Yet, there is no sense of sameness here.  Buildings have grown organically, with quirky additions and modifications over time.  Internal functions spill onto and across the footpath, even onto the road.

Interactions between people are unplanned, sometimes in conflict, but all part of the colour and chaos of the neighbourhood.  It’s the way a community is meant to be.

And yet, people are desiring a new way to live … where access to your apartment is from air-conditioned car, via basement car-park to private lift, where dinner is delivered to your door, and where you scarcely need to speak to another person.

And where streets end up looking like this.

I guess we all desire to live in an environment that is comfortable and safe and good-looking.  But, when the focus turns so sharply to the space of the individual (i.e. the private home), it is the space of the community (i.e. the street) that suffers.  And in a place where “progress” is being sought, and delivered, at such a rapid pace, the impact is even more pronounced.

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6 Responses to There Goes the Neighbourhood! (part 1)

  1. gazwani says:

    What a beautifully tragi-comic post Doctor. Very well said.

    • Thanks! It is sad and interesting at the same time. But, I guess no different to what has happened in the history of any developed country. To suggest that people stay living in difficult and unhygienic conditions, just to satisfy a romantic notion of the traditional way of life, is not right …

      • Charlie says:

        True…. it’s just a shame that the ‘new’ development is so inorganic. There’s no transition from old to new, to state the bleeding obvious. So hard to deal with so much change so quickly. But as you suggest, they have a right to new architecture and living (as long as that’s what the people really want). Just like they have a right to burn fossil fuels to get ahead, just as we did for generations (and still do). It’s a great series of photos Dr and important to diarise 🙂

      • charlie, is ‘diarise’ even a word??? 🙂
        what a complicated situation this all is … hard to put a sense of fairness above the immediate desire to pass judgement …

  2. Pingback: There Goes the Neighbourhood! (part 2) « That Look Crayzy!

  3. I too find it sad that the old traditions are being lost to redevelopment.

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