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April 4, 2014

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Workers’ residential communities to be granted protected status

SEVERAL housing communities built in the 1950s for model workers are to be given protected status, the city government said yesterday.

Many of the city’s 18 “workers’ communities” have fallen into disrepair, so both the homes and shikumen (stone gateways) will be designated as streets with “Old Shanghai Flavor” in order to ensure their preservation, an official with the Shanghai Planning, Land and Resources Administration said.

The communities were established to accommodate Shanghai’s rapidly expanding workforce during a period of industrial development. Featuring 30-square-meter apartments, with communal kitchens and bathrooms, the homes were much sought after and therefore offered only to the very best workers.

Such was the status of the communities that they remained highly desirable right up until the 1980s, and the arrival of a new wave of modern buildings.

The first development was the Caoyang Community in Putuo District, which was built in 1951 and provided homes for more than 200 model workers.

One of the few to have been well cared for over the decades, Caoyang has long been a lure for foreign tourists, including more than 150 national leaders.

Elsewhere in the city, these once desirable communities are now in a sorry state.

Fangua Alley in Zhabei District was transformed from a slum into a workers’ community in the 1950s, but in more recent years its condition has deteriorated badly.

“It’s almost a slum again,” said 58-year-old Li Cunrong, who has lived with his wife and son in a 21-square-meter apartment in the community for more than 20 years.

The problem started in the 1980s when a lot of people in the community lost their jobs, an official with the civil affairs authority said.

Today, about 10 percent of the residents of Fangua Alley rely on government subsidies to survive, he said.

Ruan Yisan, director of the National Historic Cities Research Center of Tongji University, said the workers’ communities have a huge historic significance for the city and “must be protected.”

The government should renovate the buildings and improve people’s living conditions, he said, adding that in some cases, it might be better to relocate the residents and convert the old buildings into museums.


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