“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
— Mark Twain

East Seward Road

Posted: October 22nd, 2009 | No Comments »

Adam Minter on his blog Shanghai Scrap has a great piece about Hongkou’s East Seward Road and its destruction. In much the same way as we used to say that the East End survived the Luftwaffe but not Thatcher’s London Dockland’s Development Corporation so East Seward Road survived Japanese bombing but not the rapciousness of Shanghai’s urban planners it seems. Anyway read it for yourself here (incidentally, I am in awe of Adam’s ability to write long posts – personally I can crank a long book every now and then but find long blog posts extremely draining).

The comments he’s received are the predictable ones and you can read those yourself too. I find it odd that people apply one standard to grand buildings, like those on the Bund, and others where ordinary people used to live. If you only save the former then surely future generations will get a slightly warped sense of their history, as if all of Rome was the Collosseum or all of Athens the Parthenon. And even if you don’t think old housing can be restored does that really excuse the demolition of architecturally important structrures such as the recent nighttime demolition of the old Shanghai Rowing Club (despite a preservation order supposedly)?

Everywhere I go around the world government’s now seem to be keener on saving older housing and people eager to move into refurbished buildings – think of the success of mills transformed into lofts in Yorkshire for instance or workman’s cottages across the UK while restored Glasgow tenaments are much sought after (I lived in one for a while and they are, in my opinion, the finest form of housing ever built). Tastes changed and we have to adapt for sure but remember in the 1970s when everyone ripped out their old fireplaces and blocked their chimneys? If you didn’t you’ve got the most valuable house on the street now.

By way of coincidence I had a coffee with someone from Hong Kong today who told me that the government there is now regretting much of the destruction it has reaped over recent years around the ferry terminals, Wan Chai (the sad demise of Wedding Street) and around Mid-levels. Similarly a decade or more ago Singapore finally decided to cease their own destrutive urges and save the distinctive shop-houses as surveys of tourists said they wouldn’t be coming back to see the same shops in Singapore as on their high streets back home – they wanted something distinctive and endless shopping malls and McDonald’s weren’t very attractive.

For those interested in what Hongkou used to look like (in what seems an age ago but was only a couple of years in reality) head further out to Yangpu – but don’t delay once EXPO is over the wreckers will plough on and reach Yangpu too soon.

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