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July 4, 2011

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Villa residents face uncertain future

A HISTORIC residential community faces an uncertain future as authorities are struggling to clamp down on illegal businesses there, while developers cannot afford to relocate residents and create an official entertainment area.

Six months after a crackdown in the 77-year-old Jing'an Villa, more than 80 unlicensed bars, restaurants, shops and art studios are still in business.

These are popular with locals and tourists visiting the picturesque lane running between Nanjing Road W. and Weihai Road, but have angered many residents.

More than 3,000 people live in 900 households in buildings featuring Shanghai's shikumen architecture, which combines Chinese and Western styles.

Residents complain the restaurants belch smoke into their homes, while bars are noisy until midnight every day.

"I can see no future for us," said one householder surnamed Chen.

In December, city law enforcement authorities jointly issued letters instructing the illegal businesses to close or face fines of between 10,000 yuan (US$1,547) and 50,000 yuan.

But residents say this proved ineffective as shop owners would hide menus and stock and claim they were simply residents in their homes.

Law enforcement teams then had no reason to punish them, said the director of the residential committee, surnamed Zhang.

Residents also claim that some security guards at the entrance of the neighborhood were paid by shop owners to warn them when law enforcement teams arrived.

Jing'an District is looking to move out all residents and turn the area into a Xintiandi-like entertainment hub within 10 years, according to the district's urban planning blueprint.

Residents would be relocated to affordable housing in neighboring districts, while restaurants, bars handicraft workshops and exhibition halls would transform the lane into another landmark entertainment area in the city.

The shikumen apartments would be renovated and rented to white-collars, said Tan Zheng, a senior official with the district's bureau of planning and land resources.

However, he also admitted that the plan faces enormous challenges because of the huge relocation costs developers face.

"Many residents asked for 50,000 yuan per square meter relocation fees, which were too much for any developer," said Wu Meiseng, chief designer of the Tianzifang, a popular cultural hub on Taikang Road renovated from old shikumen buildings.

The old neighborhood was transformed in 1998 into a cultural hub for artists, crafts shops, bars and restaurants.

Unlike Xintiandi, around 300 residents still live there.

Relocation costs also stymied a relocation-for-renovation project in historic Duolun Road in Hongkou District.

So for now, most residents in Jing'an Villa see little hope of moving, or of a quiet life.

"Relocation remains a dream, and every day the shops and restaurants get even busier," a resident surnamed Chen told reporters.


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