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March 20, 2012

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Residents of historic complex suffer its neglect

WITH a gentle touch, the small wooden ball fell to the floor at the 80-year-old apartment building and kept rolling swiftly on the tilting floor until it knocked against a crackled wall.

Built in 1930 and honored as a city-protected historic building, the Lincoln Apartment House complex on downtown Huaihai Road M. is now merely a derelict, subsiding group of buildings that could collapse at any moment.

Residents complained about the lack of maintenance in the past decades, and some are raising the question about how the buildings, which have experienced quality problems since 1950, could have been listed by the city as protected historic buildings.

Buildings' tilt obvious

"Many pedestrians have run to our homes, warning us that the buildings are tilting in such an obvious way that they can easily observe with their eyes," said a resident surnamed Li in her 60s. "Then I tell them if you put anything in round shapes on the floor, they would roll to the other end."

A testing report from Xuhui District's housing bureau in 2009 showed the buildings were "seriously subsiding" due to sunken ground. Residents said they were terrified when housing officials tried to comfort them by saying "the buildings will not collapse if no earthquake occurs."

Subsiding has damaged the buildings' gas pipelines, causing gas leaks in 2008. Cracks have appeared on walls of all the floors, some as wide as a fist. On rainy days, residents cope with rain flowing through their homes.

On the rooftops, cracked concrete randomly falls from the four-floor buildings, leaving passers-by at risk of being hit.

This is the home that many families have taken deep pride in as "protected historic buildings" for a dozen years. Then they realized that the title hasn't earned the buildings enough protection for the government to take action to stop them from tilting year by year.

On the contrary, such an honor even seemed to prevent the government from carrying out repair work.

"We have planned on renovating the buildings this year, but details in the repair plan have to be discussed with experts and the movements have to be taken together with other administrations," said an official surnamed Wu with the Xuhui housing bureau.

All those procedures, described by residents as "bureaucratic and unnecessary," have delayed the "emergent and necessary" repairs for more than five years since the residents first reported the problem to the local housing authority.

An 87-year-old resident surnamed Huang, who has lived in the complex for 62 years, said the place was subsiding the day she moved in.

Huang said she didn't know why they were listed as protected buildings. She guessed it was because of the special American architectural style and carvings on the rooftops.

Residents are raising this question: Will life for residents get better if the Lincoln Apartment House is simply removed from the list of the city's protected historic buildings so they can be repaired or even demolished?

Huang Anshi, a local expert in historic building protection, told Shanghai Daily that the buildings were put on the list for their special architectural style and that they would not be removed from the list without government approval.

"But it is quite difficult to repair the buildings where residents are still living without altering its appearance and structure," said the expert. "A lot of details have to be discussed with experts before the repair work starts."

The expert suggested the government think twice before listing old buildings under the protection scheme if many residents are still living inside.


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