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April 19, 2010

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Community sets off on route to a better life

LI Jinsheng, a man in his fifties, got up at 4am yesterday to pack in preparation for his move from a shanty town in Hongkou District.

He was happy to say goodbye to the tanyu - a pot used as a lavatory in old communities. His wife, Shi Cuihua, had cleaned it twice a day for more than two decades after their marriage.

"Our life quality will be much improved, with flushing toilets, gas pipes and rich sunshine in the new apartment," Li said.

His family is one of nearly 1,000 households involved in the relocation which began yesterday.

"Residents are very eager to leave for new homes," said Chen Zhongwu, a member of the relocation team.

The Hongzhen community was one of the city's biggest shanty towns in the downtown area. Many of the buildings were built before the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

It was common for multiple generations of family members to share a dark, 10-plus-square-meter room in Hongzhen for decades. People had to have lights on during the day despite the bright sunshine outside. They had to walk carefully through narrow and uneven lanes, not even wide enough for two adults to walk side by side.

Shanghai still has about 340,000 households living in 2.9 million square meters of old neighborhoods despite the city's rapid urban development.

Most residents there can't afford to buy new apartments due to soaring housing prices.

"We've waited for the relocation for many years," Li said.

The couple had lived in a 67-square-meter house in the Hongzhen community since their marriage, together with Li's mother and their son, now 22 and at the right age for marriage.

Hongzhen's first round of relocations began in 1994, when more than 10,000 families moved into more spacious apartments, or were given compensation that enabled them to choose their own apartments. But there are still about 10,000 households in the old neighborhood.

Mayor Han Zheng outlined plans to give local residents like Li a better life in the city earlier this year.

"Old community reconstruction is one of the top tasks on the government's work agenda this year," he said at a press conference after the annual Shanghai People's Congress in January.

Shanghai is to finish the reconstruction of dilapidated houses in downtown districts including Changning, Jing'an, Luwan and Xuhui by 2015, according to a government paper issued last month.

The government offered Li's family two apartments totaling 130 square meters in Jiading District's Jiangqiao Town and 1.3 million yuan (US$190,440) in cash.

With that generous offer, Li's son won't have to worry about having an apartment when he gets married and Li's mother can spend her remaining days in a sunny apartment.

"Though it's a little bit farther away, my life quality is greatly improved," Li said. "Metro Line 13 to the Jiangqiao area will open in two years. It will then be very convenient to travel in the city."

The remaining 10,000 households in the Hongzhen community are expected to move to better residences by 2012.

Their old houses will be demolished and the whole Hongzhen community will be transformed into a modern residential area.


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