Continued from Part 1

Next to the neighbourhood that was still being demolished was a construction site, where, a quick glance at the not-up-to-date Baidu streetview revealed, an almost identical neighbourhood to that which is pictured in Pt. 1 and at the gallery at the end of this post stood very recently. It was both amazing and saddening to see the before-and-after picture, it instilled in me the belief that the few people I’d seen living amongst the rubble a few minutes earlier were fighting a battle that they were inevitably going to lose.

As briefly mentioned in Pt. 1, construction workers occupy a potentially antagonistic place in the re-development process, but this isn’t necessarily by choice. According to my local friend, some construction workers encourage locals to move out of their homes, in the hope of benefiting from extra work. Whether there is in any truth in this or not, the fact that it is held as as a given by some locals means that construction workers are held as complicit in the uprooting of neighbourhoods. It would be interesting to see how significant a social cleavage manifests as a result. Below are some pictures of the dormitories that the construction workers live in.

Worker dorms
Worker dorms
Worker dorms

Building in central Shanghai is a 24 hour job, with construction never really ceasing, which is why dormitory living is mandatory. The construction speed of buildings, as a result, is incredible. The Shanghai tower – the second tallest building in the world, more than twice the height of The Shard – for instance, is going to be completed next year, just seven years after construction was started. The workers whose dorms are shown here, those who are building the Shanghai Tower, and those who belong to just about any big construction project in Shanghai, are usually native to China’s Western provinces; they’re from the notoriously poor countryside. For many Western Chinese to raise their children in a way that offers them a future financially and educationally comparable to their Eastern compatriots, they have to go to extreme lengths. In the featured case they do essentially endless construction shift-work, living in situ, often not seeing their families for more than a day or two a year. In another case, Western Chinese populate en masse the factories that line the outskirts of cities like Shanghai, as beautifully illustrated in the documentary film The Last Train Home.

After my walk around the re-development area, I found a telling sign of how fast-paced Shanghai construction and planning is. When I was studying here a couple of years ago, a number of my professors and Chinese peers mentioned the Shanghai Expo, and how I ought to go and check out the expo centre because it was something that the city was incredibly proud of. I’ve heard that the main expo area has been maintained, but this centre, clearly, has not.

Shanghai expo centre

At four years old, this building looks like it could have been built in the 1980s. In fact, that’s the way with a lot of buildings here. The climate – very hot and wet in the summer, and very cold and polluted in the winter – is not conducive to a building’s structural or aesthetic longevity, with even some of the most modern buildings showing signs of wear and tear within months of completion. But no matter. The old buildings can just be ripped down and new ones put up.

Here’s the full gallery of my walk that day: