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'Urban renewal' for shikumen compound outside West Nanjing Road metro

Residents of Zhang Yuan face 'restoration' prospects

The Zhang Yuan shikumen compound is one of Shanghai's better preserved historical neighbourhoods, especially considering that it's just down the block from the Starbucks Roastery and a few galloping steps from Exit 4 of Line 2's Nanjing Xi Lu stop. High-rise offices and commercial developments have sprung up on all sides, and trendy F&B spots like Logan's Punch and Tomatito are just within its gates, yet Zhang Yuan remains more or less intact.

That might all change soon, however, with the news via SHINE that city officials have an urban renewal project on mind for the compound. Last year, the city began restoring Zhang Yuan piecemeal, in many ways that made the ageing compound safer to live in, but only now have they have begun meeting with residents to discuss relocation and compensation packages. No hard plans have been made public about what the area will become, though since last year the city has been surveying which structures will be spared demolition for preservation.

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Zhang Yuan, which dates back to 1872, is a pastiche of western and Chinese aesthetics, western garden villas and courtyards standing beside rows of old shikumen, and a single house can have Art Deco touches lining a Chinese-style interior layout. The neighbourhood was at one first a popular entertainment district, with pavilions for magic shows and opera, and halls for gambling and dining. By 1919, the area's entertainment appeal died down and shikumens were built to bring it back to life.

In some manner, the 'urban renewal' is too predictable, even inevitable, given the history of Shanghai's rebirth into the new millennium. Just a street over from Zhang Yuan is Fengsheng Li, another old shikumen compound that just this past year reopened as a commercial compound, housing the likes of White Castle, Hard Rock Cafe, Goose Island Brewhouse and more.

In 2014 interviews, Zhang Yuan residents were already anticipating displacement due to redevelopment and shared their excitement at the prospect of being given new, modern homes and handsome compensation. However, insufficient compensation and dissatisfaction with new homes is a common thread among redevelopment projects in Shanghai.

Businesses in Zhong Plaza, a courtyard where Tap House, Logan's Punch and Tomatito are located, are likely to be unaffected by the urban renewal project. As for Zhang Yuan's historical aspects, we will have to wait and see what's still standing after the construction dust clears.

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