Xintiandi was once a quiet residential neighbourhood located in a rapidly developing inner city district in Shanghai, China. Between 1999 and 2001, however, the area underwent a massive redevelopment project. It involved the displacement of 25,000 households and 800 work units, including 3,800 households and 156 workplaces in just 43 days. This was done in order to make way for a modern design of luxury condos, hotels, trendy cafes, and international businesses. Unlike gentrification or urban renewal elsewhere, this project was envisioned, designed, and constructed in close collaboration with government officials in order to satisfy the state’s specific economic development objectives.
The Xintiandi development project, designed by Hong Kong based company Shui On Land and Shanghai architect Ben Wood, sought to transform the traditional shikumen style housing into a dense, commercialized district while preserving the feel of “Old Shanghai.” Shikumen is a traditional Shanghainese style of architecture that combines both Chinese and Western features and are two or three story brick buildings somewhat resembling terrace or town homes that were originally built by French developers who came to Shanghai in the early 20th century.
The area is now a car-free shopping and entertainment district catering to international businesses, tourists and expatriates who flock to the modern urban lifestyle of consumption, while enjoying the reminders of the culture of old Shanghai. This former residential area is home to a vibrant nightlife, a successful business district, luxury shopping, and high-end restaurants. Architects and urban planners around China have been inspired “to Xintiandi” areas fit for renewal in an attempt to replicate the neighbourhood’s success.
Despite the area’s economic successes, there remain many unanswered social impacts of such rapid and drastic development. While the buildings’ exteriors have been elaborately preserved, their insides have been completely retrofitted and the original residents have been displaced by construction or by the rising costs of living in the area. Many have been relocated to peri-urban neighbourhoods where infrastructure and facilities are largely underdeveloped. As the Chinese state strives to redevelop central city areas, the priorities of the lower-income residents are systematically neglected in the city's attempts to modernize.
Where have other massive urban renewal or gentrification projects taken place? What was the state’s involvement and who was impacted?
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