We’ve reported numerous times on the sad state of architectural preservation here in Shanghai, but we will probably never get as deep as Shanghai history buff Paul French. French has now taken the time to compile a list of the worst losses of 2010 (there were a LOT of them) and it’s well worth a read.
Of course, everyone who has been here long enough has mourned over former food street paradise Wujiang Lu and winced at the fakeness of Sinan Mansions, but there’s a plethora of other tear downs and demolitions that ought to be remembered as well – Yangpu and Hongkou Districts have suffered especially in the name of Expo, despite few (if any) Expo tourists actually making it up there.
Will 2011 finally be the year when developers stop pursuing demolitions with abandon – what with closer scrutiny and recent issued laws emphatically against it? It’s really hard to say. Meanwhile, French asks us to take note of a few things (including myths about what is protected. Basically, just about nothing):
1) the pace of destruction in no way slowed but significantly increased throughout the year with EXPO related themes cited by officials for most destruction – road widening, ‘civilising’, ‘harmonising’, ‘new Shanghai’ etc etc and of course the specious slum clearance argument.
2) we should all be clear now that ‘preservation orders’ supposedly placed on buildings to protect them have no validity whatsoever and are merely cosmetic. Supposedly preserved buildings continue to be bulldozed regularly, often at 2am!!
3) contrary to popular opinion (at least among many foreigners I speak to in Shanghai) the former French Concession is in no way under any special protection – as well as ersatz nonsense such as the non-sensical Sinan Mansions development (knock down perfectly fine old buildings to build faux replicas that can operate as coffee shops and then add a huge TV screen in the middle of it!) as well as other demolitions across Frenchtown clearly testify (the junction of Huashan and Xingguo Roads is the latest block to be threatened and hopefully we won’t be including it on the list of the lost next year). The same is true for the supposedly widely preserved former Jewish Ghetto in Tilanqiao, which is also being picked away at again.
4) the amount of lilong and shikumen housing destroyed in the last 18 months has accelerated – it is clear that none of this housing, unique to Shanghai and Shanghai only, is intended for preservation except as generic super-private policed spaces such Xintiandi. There is clearly no understanding that where people have lived is as worthy of saving and maintaining as where they banked!
5) the bulldozers have moved with a vengeance into northern Shanghai – Zhabei, Hongkou, Tilanqiao and Yangpu are all losing large swathes of housing, commercial premises and, in Yangpu particularly, rare examples of industrial architecture.