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
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.’
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.
2009: Phase one
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,
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
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
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.
Additional reporting by Tina Zhu.