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December 1, 2010

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Shops threaten historic villas

ILLEGAL shops and other businesses in historic Shanghai residential buildings are making householders' lives a misery and turning the area into yet another commercial zone, it is claimed.

Householders in the famous Jing'an Villas on Nanjing Road W. say unlicensed shops have appeared in the 70-year-old development, bringing with them noise and pollution.

A Shanghai Daily investigation has discovered more than 80 businesses - including restaurants, cafes, barber shops, bars and even theaters - open on the ground floor of many of the buildings.

But only three out of these retail businesses have the licenses that were issued several decades ago - just before the Shanghai Industrial and Commercial Administrative Bureau ended the practice.

According to an official with the complex's property management company, vendors at least used to ask for permission to run a business in Jing'an Villas. But that changed several months ago, for unknown reasons, and now they feel free to open businesses regardless.

The official said most of the businesses were set up this year, with their owners renting ground floor apartments from landlords at high prices of around 7,000 (US$1,049) to 10,000 yuan per month for a 40-squre-meter room.

An official with the complex's neighborhood committee surnamed Zhang told Shanghai Daily that they received a lot of complaints from residents, saying the restaurants were dirty and the bars noisy. But the committee could not close these businesses by themselves as they don't have law enforcement powers.

Committee officials say they are puzzled that despite repeatedly calling on law enforcement agencies - local food and drug administration and the industry and commercial bureau - to ban these businesses, nothing is done.

Residents fear the government is turning a blind eye to the activities because it wants to develop the attraction into a commercial zone like Tian Zi Fang - the old shopping area and artists' workshop zone on Taikang Road.

"I disagree with what's happening," said Li Guangwu a 67-year-old retired engineer who has lived in Building No. 24 since he was a seven-year-old child. "Look what they've done to the area."

The streets around Jing'an Villas are now filled with parked vehicles, leaving barely enough space for a person to walk past. Other vehicles sound their horns to get pedestrians to move.

Residents on second floors have to keep their windows shut to prevent smoke blowing in from restaurants downstairs. Noise from bars and theaters annoys residents late at night, while loud tourist groups further exasperate householders.

"There were fewer cars on the streets before the stores opened," said Li's 66-year-old wife surnamed Jing.

Jing was forced to plant trees near the entrance of the couple's apartment to stop vehicles parking.

The couple say they miss the old times. Then, they remember, they could take a chair and sit in the sun in the street, chatting with neighbors while their kids played football, never disturbed by the sound of car horns.


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