In the middle of one of the busiest and fastest growing cities, lies Shanghai’s former French Concession. With tree-lined avenues, small cafes, boutique shops, parks, and quiet residential streets, the area is markedly different from many of the surrounding areas of immense residential towers and offices. Not only is the FFC (Former French Concession) wildly distinctive from the rest of the city, but for many, it is what sets Shanghai apart from other cities around the world. Many cities with fast-paced urban growth have seen ceaseless development and expansion in recent years that has created seemingly endless rows of anonymous apartment towers, skyscrapers, and few authentic or unique spaces with distinctive histories.
Dating back to the 1850s, the FFC was established as a French settlement district for the small number of French foreigners in the city. Over the years, an increasing number of Europeans moving to the city led to the development and expansion of the area. It was not until the 1940s that the keys to the FFC were officially handed over to the Mayor of Shanghai. The area remained mostly untouched until the 1980s when Shanghai began experiencing rapid economic growth and started to transform its urban landscape into the modern metropolis it is today. Much of the early development was haphazard and a lot of the historical architecture was torn down to make way for denser housing and commercial spaces. In the early 2000s, however, the urban planners and the city began making a conscious effort to preserve certain aspects and plan development projects more closely.
While many homes and streets have been renovated and modernized in order to accommodate current wealthy international residents and commercial use, some of the homes and buildings are being carefully preserved in order to maintain architectural and urban design elements of the past. In a city obsessed with modern design, the FFC offers a surprising connection to European history and design. Shanghai’s history of European settlement makes it different from almost every other large Chinese city full of nondescript skyscrapers and large shopping malls. For many, this not only makes the area particularly interesting and more livable, but also worthy of preservation.
What is the importance of preserving historical architectural and design elements of a city? How do you feel about the effort to preserve European settlements in Shanghai versus Chinese historical preservation?
Credits: Photos by Sophie Plottel. Data linked to sources.