Shanghai Unveils The Bund’s $732 Million Makeover: What’s Next?

Restoration Project, Three Years In The Making, Opens In Time For Shanghai Expo

Crowds flocked to the reopening of the Shanghai Bund last week

Crowds flocked to the reopening of the Shanghai Bund last week

Last week, Shanghai’s historic Bund reopened to much fanfare after a three-year project to restore the area to its Jazz Age heyday. Opened just in time for the impending Shanghai World Expo, the Bund restoration project follows similar initiatives the city has undertaken in recent years to give new life to some of its historic 1930s structures (previously on Jing Daily) and promote areas like the Bund as the Chinese counterpart to the Champs-Élysées or 5th Avenue. From the AFP:

The renovation aims to restore the old feel of the Bund, which used to belong to pedestrians and tourists before it gradually gave way to busy vehicle traffic,” Zhou Wei, the head of Huangpu district told a news briefing.

He said Shanghai aims to create a landmark as attractive as Paris’ Champs Elysees on the two-kilometre (1.2-mile) promenade where residents practise Tai Chi at sunrise and old and modern Shanghai face each other.

Officials declined to give a figure for how much the revamp cost, but it is part of chain of projects that will see up to 400 billion yuan (58 billion dollars) in direct and indirect investment in the Expo.

The figure given by state media is more than the 290 billion reportedly spent on the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Other projects for the Expo include a massive expansion of Shanghai’s domestic airport and subway system.

Though the scale of Shanghai’s restoration effort in preparation for the World Expo is impressive, not everyone is sure Shanghai’s efforts at sprucing up some of its more grimy historical areas will necessarily improve the city’s chances of becoming a global magnet on par with Tokyo or New York. Though Shanghai’s prospects of being Asia’s future financial center look pretty rosy, if it’s going to seriously compete with Beijing on the cultural front, as the Vancouver Sun points out, it’ll take more than a paint job:

Several new bridges, roads and tunnels are already in use, and large swaths of downtown Shanghai that have suffered through a Potemkin-like paint job to cover the wear, tear and grime of long neglect are finally emerging from the bamboo scaffolding. It’s been a lot of preparation for a World’s Fair, a seemingly B-class event that many think fell off must-see lists a decade or two ago.

But perhaps the biggest surprise to come out of the facelift so far, is the crazy paint job the city commissioned — and paid for — in the older areas of the city. When the tiers of bamboo scaffolding started to come down, people suddenly noticed whole neighbourhoods were the same colour. All the houses in the lanes off Shaanxi Nan Lu, for instance, are now pale grey. On a nearby street, the buildings, one and all, are a cream colour.

The effect is to create a Potemkin village seemingly full of empty facades out of some of Shanghai’s most picturesque neighbourhoods.

The Bund restoration is designed to evoke the feel of Shanghai’s “Paris of the East” days, when the city was among the most cosmopolitan and multicultural in the world. But will it succeed where other historical “restoration” projects in China — most notably, Beijing’s Qianmen area and, as many worry, that city’s upcoming Gulou demolition/reconstruction plan — have failed? Does most concern about the city’s “Potemkin-ization” simply emanate from oversensitive foreigners who prefer the city’s gritty charm, rather than from the Shanghainese themselves? Only time will tell.


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