The battle for Yongkang Lu

Residents and developers on the area’s controversial transformation


As two adjacent roads prepare to be redeveloped along similar lines, Time Out talks to the residents and developers of Yongkang Lu about the area’s controversial transformation

When a Yongkang Lu resident stormed the offices of the Platform property development company and placed a two-foot knife on a table in early 2013, it was just the latest in a series of complaints general manager Kathy Chi had faced. Since her project to replace the shops on the street with bars created a bustling expat-driven boozing centre, she’s been constantly dealing with angry locals kept awake by the crowds. Although this was the first time anyone had complained by wielding weaponry at her.

‘He put it on the table right here,’ Chi explains, sat upstairs in her Yongkang Lu office. ‘All the staff were scared but I said, “What do you want? You want to kill me? Okay, come on. Why are you doing this? You are crazy.” Then we called the police and they came over and took the details.’

The same knife-wielding resident had previously vented some of his anger by smashing 17 plant pots on the street. Chi made him pay 3,700RMB to have them replaced. It wasn’t the noise of the drinkers that annoyed him, but the smell from The Sailors Fish and Chips shop he lived above.

It might seem like an extreme reaction to the scent of cooking oil, but tensions on this street are nothing new. In spring this year, international media picked up on reports that exasperated residents living above the bars were tipping water on inebriated foreigners below. It didn’t put the revellers off.‘The drinkers just shouted, “Come on, do it again!” to them,’ laughs Chi. ‘Then they called their friends to come and watch.’ But it did lead to new rules being implemented for the bars including a 10pm curfew for drinking outside. The rule is strictly enforced and most bar managers agree that complaints have been reduced since its implementation.

‘At weekends we still get complaints from upstairs,’ says Hans Wu, manager of The Blarney Stone. ‘And we have to ask customers to lower the volume. But it’s mainly just a weekend thing now.’ One staff member at another location on Yongkang Lu, who didn’t want to be named, revealed that the bars now have to pay off the locals with a special ‘tax’. ‘It’s very sensitive, but it has made things easier,' they explain. 'The problem is when you make the deal [with people who live above the bars] the people on the left side, then the right side, then down the alleys find out and want the same.’

"Yongkang-Lu-resident"Things may have quietened down somewhat on Yongkang Lu, but the bar strip’s adjacent streets could be set for similar battles in the next few months. First redeveloped from a market street into a shopping street before bars became the focus, Yongkang Lu is the first of a three-phase project for the area. Phase two will see the adjacent Jiashan Lu redeveloped as a restaurant street, while for phase three Xiangyang Lu will have some of its stores replaced by more modern shops or restaurants, though admittedly to a less drastic degree than Yongkang Lu and Jiashan Lu.

This will mean that many locals are in for a significant payday, with their homes set to be bought at vastly inflated prices due to the area’s increase in property value since Yongkang Lu became so popular. It will also mean that many people renting shops will be turfed out, not to mention the fact that some of Shanghai’s most beautiful traditional streets will be changed forever.

In the longtang behind Yongkang Lu, opinions are mixed. ‘Of course people are going to keep complaining, they just want the developer to slip them some cash to shut up,’ says resident Mr Liu. Another local, Mr Wu, says that most complaints are sincere. ‘As soon as the sun sets there are [foreigners] everywhere,’ he says. ‘It bothers me, but things are improving a bit, the developer is trying to manage the crowds.’

‘We can’t open our windows at night due to the noise,’ says Ms Huang, who runs a shop on Jiashan Lu and lives above it. ‘It’s supposed to go down by 10pm but no significant changes have happened. Earlier this year people came to tell us about the plans for Jiashan Lu, they said our street would become another Yongkang Lu. We try to put it out of our minds. We’re renters, ordinary folk. We’ll have to leave our shop.’

Popping her head through a window to speak, a lady who lives above the expat hub is chirpier. ‘We’re all waiting for the day when our apartments are bought out,’ she exclaims. ‘We’re going to make a fortune!’

As is the case for any major development, there will be big winners and big losers as each phase gets underway. But Chi admits that there’s only one way to sort out the problem for those living above the bars: buy them out. ‘After the three phases we want to do upstairs on Yongkang,’ she explains. ‘The bars are too noisy. So we want to make the second floor a small hotel, possibly aimed at backpackers. We can fix the problem. [The residents] will be happy about it, we’ll buy them out for a higher price, and they’ll be able to find a quiet space.’

And hopefully, for at least one resident, a space that doesn't reek of chip oil.

The Yongkang Lu area development timeline

2009: Phase one begins

After complaints about the perceived dirtiness of the Yongkang Lu meat market from high-powered, wealthy residents are made, the government enlists the Platform development company to turn the area into a shopping street.

2012: Shops out, bars in

Three years later the shop plan is scrapped after it fails to take off and some of the new store owners leave their premises without paying rent. A new plan to open bars on the street gears up. Those open now include Sliders (right), Revolution Cocktail and The Blarney Stone.

2013: The locals revolt

Angry locals living above the bars take to chucking water over drinkers in an attempt to shut them up. New rules, including a 10pm curfew for drinking outside, come in. They are partially successful, with fewer complaints yet still some locals saying the noise is a problem.

2014: The next phase

The developers hope that by early 2014 new restaurants will have opened on Jiashan Lu (right) – the road next to Yongkang Lu that is being redeveloped next. That is phase two of the project; phase three will see some stores on Xiangyang Lu replaced.

201?: The final buy-out

Although no time scale exists yet, once phase three is complete, the developer’s plan is to sort the problem of complaining neighbours buy buying out the apartments directly above the Yongkang Lu bars and turning them into a budget hotel.

Jamie Fullerton

Additional reporting by Tina Zhu.