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

Slums by Intent 1

Posted: December 16th, 2010 | 2 Comments »

I’m getting together my annual ‘What we Lost’ list for 2010, a yearly tradition of cataloguing buildings of note that have been bulldozed in the past year. 2009 was especially bad but 2010 has also been disastrous across a range of properties and the entire city. In fact it’s really too hard to pull together everything lost in 2010 because so much of it was housing – right across the city from Weihai Road and Frenchtown to the boonies of Yangpu. Whenever anyone comments on structures such as banks, hospitals and larger buildings coming down, or big houses and villas everyone moans but, all too often, when ordinary housing is destroyed rather than preserved and refurbished the old cry is ‘well it was a slum anyway’.

But, let’s be clear about this, in Shanghai slums are engendered. What are now described as slums were once perfectly good buildings and modern amenities can easily be incorporated in them when the will is there. First of many of these buildings have been subject to overcrowding for decades. However, more importantly they have been in state ownership with no incentives for the tenants to either maintain or improve them – this is invariably most obviously apparent in the shabby and run down common areas that nobody wishes to take responsibility for.

The government has actively encouraged people to neglect properties by being vague about what is getting torn down but letting everyone know that pretty much everything will eventually get torn down. Again, neglect and lack of investment then becomes the norm and a slum is created. Eventually conditions get to the extent where what was a decent building that could easily have been renovated really is a slum. But we should be aware that this is a designed strategy by the government and the property developers in Shanghai.

Of course when they wish to preserve a building they can do perfectly well. So here’s examples of the three stages from an area of several blocks in Tilanqiao.

First a restored building:

This is a preserved house on Tongbei Road (formerly Thorburn Road), the only one remaining on the street. It has survived as it is part of the large complex of the Shanghai Tobacco Corporation. Originally it would have been a nice house overlooking Wayside Park (now Huoshan Park). It’s a 1921 structure and has been restored extensively, in fact a little too much with the addition of new brickwork and ‘features’ that aren’t traditional or tasteful – but it remains.

Next, structures from approximately the same time that are about to be demolished.

This block of housing, originally built 1925 stretches along Huimin Road (formerly Baikal Road) between Tongbei (Thorburn), crossing Liaoyang Road (Liaoyong Road) and running as far as Dalian Road (Dalny Road).  Residents here have long been told that the structure is coming down, though it still remains. Much around the area has been bulldozed for extensions of Shanghai Tobacco and Baoland high rises. Consequently the residents have obviously not felt inclined to invest in the upkeep of their properties – they are overcrowded and without many amenities but structurally in fine shape and were easily refubishable. Yet, they have been allowed to degenerate into a slum. They are expected to be demolished in 2011 but as yet no chai sign has gone up to confirm this.

And thirdly, those in excellent shape who’s future is unsure:

This row of buildings, comprising four lanes lie along Liaoyang Road (Liaoyong) between Huimin Road (Baikal Road) and Huoshan Road (Wayside Road). They area mix of residential and commercial properties and not overly crowded. They remain in good shape though with the odd jerry built addition. However, large scale destruction has gone, and is going, on around them and their future remains unclear. The rooms are actually light and airy, the roof is in good condition. These properties can easily be refurbished to the highest standards for the families living in them. However, their fate remains unclear and while families have worked to maintain the properties they are now rather losing heart when they see wastelands appearing all around them.

Will these two become slums, by intent, within a year or two?

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2 Comments on “Slums by Intent 1”

  1. 1 gregorylent said at 4:02 pm on December 16th, 2010:

    it is the chinese way, from singapore to shanghai. pragmatism trumps sentimentality every time.

  2. 2 SalmonFish said at 2:30 pm on December 20th, 2010:

    “pragmatism trumps sentimentality every time.”

    But if these are perfectly good buildings then destroying them might not prove pragmatic in the long run; it is really short-term gains which trump pragmatism and sentimentality.


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