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September 11, 2012

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Plan for shikumen housing creates stir

A LOCAL district government that decided to demolish a major shikumen neighborhood and reconstruct some buildings with original materials from the neighborhood to "protect" them has stirred controversy among experts.

Built in the 1930s, the 8,000-square-meter Shenyuli Lane neighborhood along Suzhou Creek will become a park free to the public, Zhou Haiyang, an official with the Suzhou Creek Development Office, told Shanghai Daily yesterday.

"Several buildings with the most typical shikumen characteristics will be rebuilt the same with its original looks and turned into stores or art and cultural centers in spots at the park," said Zhou.

He said the neighborhood failed to be listed as "historic protection buildings" by the city's cultural heritage authority and most of them are in poor condition.

The creek waterfront area is planned as an eco-friendly corridor for sightseeing and relaxation, with five parks and several yachting marinas, the Shanghai Bureau of Planning and Land Resources said. The neighborhood with about 40 shikumen buildings stands in the middle of the "corridor," so was designed into one of the five parks called Suzhou Creek Bay Cultural Park, according to the bureau.

Demolition work has begun on the neighborhood and about 1,000 residents and some businesses have been relocated from the original apartments, which had structural problems such as rot, as well as being overcrowded, according to Zhou.

The reconstruction plan caused arguments among local historic building protection experts, with some criticizing the new buildings as "fake."

"It is not protection but destruction, actually," said Ruan Yisan, director of the National Historic Cities Research Center of Tongji University.

Wang Weiqiang, an architectural and urban planning expert, also said that "the project is having historic heritage demolished and then building a fake."

The district government wants to preserve the buildings, but their condition was too poor for those who lived there, said a press officer for Zhabei District.

"The project may not be the best way of historic building preservation, but it should be a good example of improving people's living conditions while leaving some memory of the city's historic architectural style," said Wang Anshi, an architectural expert on the city's historic building protection committee.


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