Injecting vigor into old communities

More than 50 years ago, Yuyuan Road was known as the place that many famous personalities such as scientist Qian Xuesen, writers Fu Lei and Shi Zhecun, pianist Gu Shengying and actress Lydia Shum, called home.

But the neighborhood lost its luster over time as society underwent major changes. It was not until 2015, when a creative company was commissioned to renovate the old buildings along this road, that it regained its prominence.

“We walked the streets every day to seek inspiration. We had many discussions about how to add new elements to the old community while preserving its cultural and historical value,” says Fang Wen, general manager of Chuangyi Creative Inc, the company responsible for the design and renewal of Yuyuan Road.

“We finally decided to inject vigor into the old community by integrating art into people’s life.”

The company has since 2017 been working with international artists to infuse the area with art. For example, the former post office on Yuyuan Road was transformed into a department store that also comprises a cafe, a fashion store and a space for holding art exhibitions.

“We hope to attract young people by making it fashionable and modern on the inside while keeping its original architectural style.”

A multifunctional telephone booth painted orange and equipped with charging devices and Wi-Fi has also caught the attention of passersby. There is also a vibrant space comprising several small shops, a music school and exhibitions themed around modern art. The most notable exhibition space is a gallery on the second floor of the community market in Hongye Garden where exhibitions about artworks closely related to people’s lives have been held.

According to Fang, the first exhibition paid tribute to businesses on Yuyuan Road through an exhibition of photos depicting tailors, locksmiths, shoemakers and shopkeepers. The second exhibition, which was themed as a nostalgic department store, showed the audience the lifestyle of residents during the 1980s.

“By combining life with art and renovating the old community, the composition of the population will be changed, and this will in turn attract more young people and bring new vitality into the community,” says Fang.

“We hope to turn Yuyuan Road into a fashionable landmark by introducing trendy brands and exhibiting the culture of Shanghai.”

While the infusion of art has spruced up the community, Fang insisted that the main priority of the renewal project is to improve the life quality of residents.

“We want to ensure that residents have access to quality products and services at affordable prices. The lives of the residents should not be neglected in the process of urban renewal,” she says.

“We will further optimize facilities in the community, setting aside space for residents to exercise and play mahjong. We will also consider building passageways in the alley that wheelchair users can use.”

According to Huo Bai, a 66-year-old resident who has been living in the neighborhood since he was born, a public garden has also been built after illegal structures in his neighborhood were torn down, providing an ideal place for elderly residents to relax and exercise.

“Foreigners in the community usually have a picnic nearby on weekends, singing and playing the guitar together,” he says.

“This special culture and atmosphere can only be found in the old communities like ours. It is very difficult to replicate this elsewhere. To preserve the old neighborhoods is to preserve the distinctive culture of Shanghai.”

Tang Xiaofan contributed to this story.

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