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Shanghai's old town needs better conservation


05-20-2016 06:08 BJT

People who live in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai may feel a good way to escape the pressure of daily life is to visit the old town area.  There's a urgent need for protecting these historical buildings from demolition or redevelopment.

Hidden behind high walls, this is thought to be the oldest house in Shanghai. So far, it lies undisturbed in the old quarter. Only one member of the owner's family still lives here. Discovering these nearly forgotten jewels, some people decide to document them. Katya Knyazeva is one of them.

"This is probably the most interesting house in all of Shanghai because it's the longest-occupied private residence, it's the house that's never been turned into a museum or restored since its first, since the day it was built, which is in the18th Century," Local historian & photographer Katya Knyazeva said.

Old maps reveal how the old town was once a dense network of communities linked by narrow passages.

Walking along these alleyways, Zhou Quan likes to capture the atmosphere of the past.

"So many people are hurrying about in Shanghai's subway with their heads stooped over their mobile phones, working from nine to five, there is no rhythm. The only thing in their lives is making money and supporting their families. But here (in the old town) you can see a much slower way of life," Local photographer Zhou Quan said.

And here is a major challenge for this old town. Some places are expected to make way for highways and high-rises.

"It's really apparent in city centre areas, and also the suburbs, real estate developments have a big demand for land. But the land they want isn't farm land; what they probably want the most is land with convenient transport links, land in the city centre. And this kind of land often contains historic architecture," Cao Yongkang, director of Center for Architectural Heritage Conservation of Shanghai Jiaotong University, said.

For many people living in big cities, these places can be a habitat for the soul. When it comes to sustainable development, heritage belongs to the future as well as to the past.

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