Pop­u­lar street party comes to an end

Bars in Yongkang Road closed af­ter com­plaints from res­i­dents, as Zhou Wenting re­ports from Shang­hai.

China Daily (USA) - - CHINA - Con­tact the writer at zhouwent­ing@chi­nadaily.com.cn

The city- and district-level gov­ern­ments are still work­ing on a fu­ture plan for Yongkang Road ...” a spokesman sur­named Huang from Shang­hai’s Tian­ping sub-district where Yongkang Road is lo­cated

We’re all clear that the pros­per­ous days for Yongkang Road are gone.” Xie Yong, a res­i­dent on Yongkang Road

Yongkang Road in Shang­hai is a tree-lined thor­ough­fare bounded on both sides by rows of three-story, res­i­den­tial build­ings that are al­most a cen­tury old.

In re­cent years, more than 40 bars have sprung up all along the 50-me­ter-long street, at­tract­ing throngs of Western­ers and tourists who come to party late into the night.

Travel and life­style mag­a­zines have dubbed the area, in the for­mer French con­ces­sion of Shang­hai, a must-see and “first stop” for newly ar­rived ex­pa­tri­ates.

But now, ev­ery­thing seems to have changed.

Most of the bars are closed, with no­tices on their doors in­form­ing cus­tomers that they will be back soon or are mov­ing else­where.

“We’re all clear that the pros­per­ous days for Yongkang Road are gone,” said Xie Yong, one of the street’s res­i­dents.

“Ur­ban man­age­ment of­fi­cers and po­lice cars pa­trol the road all the time now, ex­cept in the early morn­ing hours. The num­ber of cus­tomers has also dropped by at least 80 per­cent.”

Bao Bingzhang, head of Xuhui district where Yongkang Road is lo­cated, said in July that noise com­plaints had been an is­sue for years and were the ul­ti­mate rea­son for the sus­pen­sion of busi­ness.

“I’ve never seen a street like this any­where else. Cus­tomers from all over the world have said the same as well. Hav­ing neigh­bors above us is unique and I can see why it has cre­ated prob­lems,” said Alexandre Fortin, a bar man­ager from Canada with 20 years ex­pe­ri­ence who works on Yongkang Road.

Start­ing from Au­gust, all the bars on the street were or­dered to re­move their out­side ta­bles and chairs, and around 30 es­tab­lish­ments were closed for not hav­ing a busi­ness li­cense.

It turned out that some had rented the space they were us­ing from for­mer res­i­dents.

“The city- and district-level gov­ern­ments are still work­ing on a fu­ture plan for Yongkang Road and haven’t de­cided whether to re­open the bars, in­tro­duce a new busi­ness for­mat, or let res­i­dents live on the first floors again,” said a spokesman from the Tian­ping sub-district of Xuhui who only gave the sur­name Huang.

An­ger­ing the lo­cals

Yongkang Road used to host a bustling food mar­ket where veg­eta­bles and live poul­try were sold. Res­i­dents com­plained about the noise, smell and mess un­til 2009, when the govern­ment de­cided to give the street a facelift.

Shang­hai Paifeng Yongkang Busi­ness Man­age­ment Co was au­tho­rized to try and at­tract more busi­ness to the area. Sev­eral cloth­ing stores opened, but trade was slug­gish.

Then, in 2011, five French na­tion­als opened a bar, which be­came pop­u­lar among ex­pa­tri­ates, and many more fol­lowed. About 90 per­cent of the bars on the street were opened by for­eign­ers, in­clud­ing French, Ital­ians, Amer­i­cans, Aus­tralians and Bel­gians, the com­pany said.

The street quickly gained in pop­u­lar­ity among many of Shang­hai’s 170,000 or so for­eign per­ma­nent res­i­dents, who loved grab­bing a beer and catch­ing up with friends af­ter work. On many evenings, the area be­came so busy that pa­trons spilled out onto the street, leav­ing barely enough room for cars to squeeze through.

The rev­elry would of­ten be­gin at around 5 pm and last un­til mid­night— or even longer dur­ing “for­eign fes­ti­vals”, ac­cord­ing to Ding Weifen, who lives in the neigh­bor­hood.

All the noise caused prob­lems, how­ever. Most of the street’s build­ings have poor sound in­su­la­tion and many res­i­dents on the up­per floors said they had trou­ble sleep­ing. Some com­plained that they could only hear their tele­vi­sion sets if they turned the vol­ume all the way up and closed their win­dows.

One-third of the res­i­dents in Yongkang Road, more than 1,500 peo­ple, are age 60 or older, ac­cord­ing to the neigh­bor­hood com­mit­tee’s sta­tis­tics.

About 50 res­i­dents are age 90 and above.

There were also fears that pub­lic se­cu­rity was be­ing en­dan­gered by the bars, which were also thought to be at­tract­ing pros­ti­tutes.

“It wasn’t rare to see drunk for­eign­ers throw­ing up in our neigh­bor­hood, and some peo­ple even climbed up on the roofs,” Ding said.

Some res­i­dents be­came so ex­as­per­ated with the sit­u­a­tion that they start­ing dump­ing wa­ter onto the noisy crowds be­low.

Af­ter sev­eral of these “wa­ter at­tacks” in 2013, the bars agreed to stop tak­ing or­ders af­ter 10 pm.

They also be­gan pay­ing each up­stairs house­hold 1,000 yuan ($150) per month to sub­si­dize their elec­tric­ity costs, as res­i­dents com­plained that they could not open their win­dows be­cause of the noise, and so had to use air con­di­tion­ing.

“We signed a con­tract with the busi­ness man­age­ment com­pany. Upon re­ceiv­ing the money, we agreed not to abuse the pa­trons, com­plain to govern­ment au­thor­i­ties, or re­lease neg­a­tive in­for­ma­tion to the me­dia,” said a res­i­dent who asked to re­main anony­mous.

Dif­fer­ent voices

Some res­i­dents, es­pe­cially those who used to live on the ground floor, em­pha­sized that not all lo­cals are op­posed to the clus­ter of bars open­ing in the neigh­bor­hood.

“We un­der­stand that for­eign­ers like drink­ing out in the open air and I think it’s fine to place ta­bles and chairs on the side­walk un­less they ob­struct the traf­fic,” said a res­i­dent who only gave her sur­name as Xu, adding that the au­thor­i­ties should have taken mea­sures ear­lier rather than adopt­ing such a sweep­ing ap­proach now.

Xia Jun, 68, who rents his room to a bar man­ager, said the govern­ment should seek reme­dies to the res­i­dents’ prob­lems rather than clos­ing ev­ery­thing down, as it had taken a long time to build the street into a pop­u­lar en­ter­tain­ment area.

“The govern­ment spent more than 1 mil­lion yuan on ren­o­va­tion of the side­walks and the dec­o­ra­tion of the store­fronts,” he said.

“This showed that they were happy for us to rent rooms to for­eign­ers, but now they say the bars don’t have busi­ness li­censes.”

Xu Chun­mei, an­other res­i­dent, said many of houses on the street lacked kitchens or bath­rooms and the best ap­proach would be to re­lo­cate all home­own­ers, al­low­ing the area’s com­plete com­mer­cial­iza­tion.


A day­time view of Yongkang Road in down­town Shang­hai in 2014.

Yongkang Road is crowded with bar go­ers one night in July be­fore the mu­nic­i­pal au­thor­i­ties launched a ren­o­va­tion cam­paign there.

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