A view of Shanghai that no longer exists
This is a view that no longer exists. This part of my life is only a memory, sometimes recorded in photographs, other times replayed in my head so often I wonder if I’ve changed the original stories.
This is a view from my grandmother’s apartment, a unit in a mid-rise danwei (work unit) housing, built in Shanghai, China, at the beginning of the economic reform in the early 1980s. Living quarters were tight so public space was everything outside your small apartment unit; people socialized in the open hallways and downstairs by the stairwell (so you can catch up on gossip from the elders before heading upstairs). Unlike where she lives now, there was a strong sense of community where everybody knew everybody.
Living in the center of Jing An, the oldest district in Shanghai, meant there was no way rapid urban redevelopment in the 1990s would pass over such prime real estate. By the time I had graduated college in 2007, years of negotiations between residents and the development company had finally concluded and one of the buildings was immediately torn down so that long term construction worker housing could be built (the brick layering in photo). A commercial building and a hotel now stand in this area.
This is now my grandmother’s daily view: a lush green central park in a semi-gated community where nobody knows anybody because verticality doesn’t facilitate social neighborly interactions.
The cloud of smoke is from firecrackers- someone is either newly married or just moving into their apartment or both. It’s fun to watch from the balcony to see if you can catch a glimpse of the bride and groom, but the rush of interest soon fades because after all, one is physically distant and therefore emotionally removed. There’s something solemn and unfriendly about how these buildings form a wall of exclusion, both in view and in access.
My grandmother likes the new apartment more than the older one: she says there are fewer mosquitos, more living space, and nice wood flooring. But, I wonder if living in high-rise buildings for the elderly isn’t too dissimilar from living alone on an island, where your social network has fallen away and you’re afraid of stepping outside because the city you grew up in no longer looks like anything you remember.
Grace Zheng is a MRP/MLA dual degree candidate at Cornell University. Her thesis examines the culture of Chinese landscape architecture practice in Shanghai design firms.
This post is part of the Fresh Eye Friday photo series.