Shanghai has been unseasonably warm this fall. Yesterday was the first of November, yet I was still strolling around the city in a t-shirt and a scarf. Days of rain had subsided, and I went for a stroll with a friend. It was still somewhat overcast, combined with pollution made for a rather interesting mood.
We walked to the Jing’an Sculpture Park, a hidden gem in Jing’an that has undergone many transformation. The latest includes a giant Natural History Museum that is due to open in two months. We headed further north, and discovered Butterfly Bay, along the Suzhou River. I didn’t see a single butterfly, but was still amazed that after two years of living in the neighborhood, there was still this small bit of oasis that I hadn’t noticed.
What struck me most was when walking back towards my apartment, I crossed an intersection (Jiangning Rd 江宁路 & Xinzha Rd 新闸路) just two blocks north of me that I haven’t visited in a while. Just last year, I had bought food from this block of old houses, filled with local shops. I was thus shocked to see the entire block boarded up, and ready for demolition. Last year, I had written a piece on the rapidly vanishing Old Shanghai. The encounter yesterday hit me particularly hard, because I suddenly have an actual connection to this block of buildings. I vividly remember the authenticity and the liveliness that once resided on this street. And then, it’s gone.
We stood on the open field, and there was still a garden sprouting veggies. You can see remnants of life and a lively community that once had happened on the lot. History is vanishing right in front of our eyes, and I was sad to see it happening. Mostly, because I know instead of restoring these old buildings, another shiny shopping mall or some other equally uninteresting building will take place instead. Just the way I loathe cookie cutter houses in the US, I detest ugly skyscrapers that devoid of character. For those who aren’t familiar, in China, towers go up at the same rate cookie cutter houses go up in the suburbs. To me, both are equally horrible ways to approach urban development.
There will come a time, when remnants of history are no longer available to be torn down, and what the future generation and visitors will know of the old Shanghai will be from books, movies and the glimpse of the few well renovated old buildings scattered about. I suppose that’s the way it goes. I count myself extremely fortunate to be able to witness such rapid changes each and everyday.