Shanghai restoring last cluster of 1950s dormitories

2021-03-29 12:04:20

Shanghai is restoring its last cluster of dormitories built in the early 1950s, transforming them into a compound commemorating the city's history and changing urban environment. The project in Yangpu district's Changbai new village will restore 12 buildings built in 1952 in response to Mao Zedong's call to provide living spaces to workers. Each two-story building housed 10 families, with five rooms, a shared kitchen and two toilets on each floor. Shanghai built around 2,000 such buildings, mostly in its Yangpu and Putuo districts, and they became known as the liangwanhu-the 20,000 households. Living conditions in the liangwanhu were far from desirable after decades of use, with bulging households sharing kitchens and toilets and potential hazards from illegal extensions and other modifications. Most of the buildings have been demolished since the early 2000s, when residents started to be relocated. The relocation of the residents of the 12 buildings in Changbai started in 2016. Changbai Party Secretary Sun Hui said all the residents agreed with the relocation plan and the neighborhood's transformation. Two relatively well-preserved buildings will be transformed into a museum, while the others will be rebuilt in accordance with their original designs and serve as office space, public and commercial facilities such as cafes and parking lots to create a cultural business circle. Former Changbai Party secretary Li Fang said there were 360 households living in the buildings when she took the position in 2015. She said she never expected 100 percent approval of the relocation plan. "It was like achieving a mission impossible," Li said. An agreement of at least 85 percent of residents is usually required for a relocation project to proceed, and that could often be challenging, she said. "Successful relocation cannot be achieved without the efforts of many ordinary people," she said, recalling a 67-year-old resident who initially refused to sign the relocation agreement. Li and other neighborhood committee cadres visited the man and discovered it would be very difficult for him to find a suitable place to live because he was disabled and lived alone. To help the man, who needed a new home on a ground floor, with a hospital nearby and rent of less than 2,500 yuan ($382) a month, Li's team took him around to look for one. Days later, their efforts paid off. While life in the liangwanhu ended in 2016, when the last residents were relocated, many former residents still miss the close relationships they established with their neighbors. Ju Chunying, who used to live in the neighborhood, said liangwanhu residents were not like the people who live in tall apartment buildings and do not know their neighbors. "At that time, you didn't have to lock the door when you went out, because when a neighbor met a stranger, he would ask who he was looking for," Ju said. "If you cooked delicious food in the shared kitchen, neighbors would learn to cook the same dishes the next day." Xue Liyong, a researcher at the Shanghai History Museum, said the liangwanhu represent a special era in Shanghai. Turning part of the last cluster into a physical museum will give future generations a glimpse of life in the past, he said.