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Residents prepare for new lives as community faces demolition
By Zha Minjie

RELOCATION for the residents of Dongsiwenli, one of the largest and oldest downtown Shikumen communities in the city, has arrived even though some still haven't agreed to compensation terms.

The nearly 100-year-old community will be demolished to make way for a new office tower.

"Now you Shanghai people will get rich after all this," said a couple from out-of-town to a local man living next door.

The Shanghai man just smiled.

The man's three-member family live in a 21-square-meter apartment in Dongsiwenli, Jing'an District. After they are relocated they will own two larger apartments, which they received as compensation, in the Pudong New Area's Sanlin area.

90 billion yuan

Dongsiwenli was first built in 1914 and the demolishment of the community is part of a broad blueprint to increase the pace of urban renovation and so-called slum removal.

Shanghai plans this year to replace 700,000 square meters of dilapidated housing and relocate 30,000 households to new apartments to improve the living conditions of low-income locals.

The government is expected to pay a total of 90 billion yuan (US$14.6 billion) in relocation compensation this year.

Some Dongsiwenli residents, knowing their lives will change, harbor fears that the compensation they received wasn't enough while a minority still haven't agreed on a settlement.

The west part of the community, Xisiwenli, was demolished more than 10 years ago. Office buildings are now being built on the land. Now the bulldozers and wrecking balls are coming to the rest of the community, home to more than 3,000 households, several factories, dozens of stalls, and a senior's home.

Some residents are happy to move out from cramped quarters and into modern apartments with plumbing and other amenities. Others worried about a variety of things.

Cao Koudi, who is nearly 70 years old, moved to the area after getting married decades ago.

"We may have trucks of books to move," half-joked Cao. "Although there's no toilet facility, our home is quite comfortable with only two of us."

Still, Cao was worried that the hospitals will be far away once they move from the downtown community.

Resident Wu Juijin, 88, said she wasn't too worried about the move while taking her dog for a walk and stopping for a chat with neighbors.

"I do not know whether I would come back to this place," said Wu, who lives with her son after her husband died long ago. "I might not be suitable for the business environment afterwards."

Wu moved to Dongsiwenli when she was 12 years old. At that time there was a flour mill and a stone mill in the community, she said, adding that the Japanese troops were on the other side of the river.

Wu said they are mostly finished moving to the new apartment.

Nothing to talk about

Some residents, however, decided to hold onto their homes as long as possible.

"There's nothing to talk to them about," said a man washing clothes in a sink outside his home as several men from the so-called demolition-and-relocation team walked by. The man said he did not sign the compensation agreement as the team only agreed to give him money for half of his home space. To prove his case, he took out the deed with his dead mother's name on it.

A little more than 10 percent of Dongsiwenli residents have not yet signed compensation agreements.

"I'd rather die with my home," said another resident, an elderly man surnamed Shen.

Another resident surnamed Yuan said: "For them it's a situation you can't win, like throwing an egg against a rock."

Yuan, 50, is the owner of a grocery store and seemed eager to move out.

Yuan said her family received two apartments as compensation.

"One for my husband and me, and one for our son to get married," she said.

At the senior's home, "Most of the elderly here have gone," said an employee surnamed Wu. "They were picked up by their families or they died."

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