Shanghai builds infrastructure after scandal

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 April, 2008, 12:00am

Shanghai is moving forward with a number of infrastructure projects that had been mired in a corruption scandal, giving rise to speculation the commercial hub is back in the good graces of the central government.

Chief among them are elements of a 74 sq km area stretching from the Xupu Bridge in the south to Wusong port in the north, called the Huangpu River Comprehensive Redevelopment Project, which was envisaged by now disgraced party secretary Chen Liangyu when he was acting mayor in 2002. Chen, ousted for embezzling funds, has been tried and is now awaiting the verdict.

The plan aims to transform the city's industrial structure and improve residents' living standards by not only giving a facelift to the Bund, the renowned waterfront, but also extending north and south along the banks of the Huangpu River.

With the World Expo coming in 2010, the city has picked several key areas to redevelop, including the Bund itself, the North Bund and the Nanpu Bridge area on the Expo site. The future of two other projects, an extension of the high-speed maglev train line and a Disney theme park, are still uncertain, though the city is keen to push ahead.

'Rumours today, rumours tomorrow. There are rumours work will begin next month,' said a resident living on the possible site for the Disney park. Meanwhile, the government says it is still collecting opinions on the maglev after mass protests against the project in January.

The most significant move to date is a 40 billion yuan (HK$44.45 billion) investment to improve transport infrastructure on the Bund. Shanghai will divert most motor vehicles on Zhongshan East Road to a 3.3km tunnel to ease congestion. The city will narrow the road to four lanes to create space for parks, a promenade and stores.

'The Bund receives up to 2 million visitors a day, so it was necessary for the government to reconsider the plan to cope with the huge flow,' architecture professor Zheng , of Tongji University, said.

The last time the city carried out major work on the Bund in 1993, it broadened the road to 10 lanes to create a major north-south artery.

As part of the latest project, the city demolished a 160-metre section of highway and an off-ramp of the Yanan Elevated Road. Known as the 'No1 curve in Asia' for its sharp turn and spectacular view of the Bund, the road needed hundreds of workers to break it up into 30 massive pieces and remove them with cranes.

Workers will dismantle the 100-year-old Waibaidu Bridge across Suzhou Creek at the north end of the Bund. It will be transported to a shipyard for restoration and then replaced before the Expo to allow for 50 more years of use.

Several hundred metres north along the river, a 4 sq km area called the North Bund is taking shape. Because of its prime location - at the junction of Suzhou Creek and the Huangpu River - the city wants to make it Shanghai's 'river portal'.

The showpiece is a complex called the International Passenger Shipping Centre, which will be completed before the Expo. It will include six office buildings, two serviced housing estates, a hotel and a cultural centre. Underneath will be a 245,000 square metre space divided into three levels with a car park and commercial space.

A terminal for cruise ships will open later this month, giving visitors a 360-degree view of the surroundings, which has earned the structure the nickname 'the Bubble'.

'Imagine when visitors step off the cruise ships, they will immediately see the most fantastic view of Shanghai with the historical buildings on the Bund on one side and the skyscrapers in Lujiazui on the other,' Li Li, deputy director of the North Bund Development Office, said.

He is confident the cruise ship industry will contribute to the city's economy and create a 'golden triangle' business zone comprising the North Bund, the Bund and the financial district Lujiazui.

The Hongkou district government hopes to build a 2.2km promenade along the North Bund waterfront, though the plan has met with opposition. Mr Li said he had hoped visitors would be able to stroll all the way from the North Bund to the old Bund, but because a naval port blocked the road, more negotiations were needed.

The massive redevelopment has challenges, including the eviction of residents and traffic congestion. Along Wusong Road, where the new tunnel will emerge, a red banner reads 'Construction will bring happiness to people's hearts', but many residents are anything but happy.

'We were suddenly notified and forced to move, and some even had arguments and fights with workers because many of us felt dissatisfied with the compensation,' an elderly resident said.

About 1,400 roads in Shanghai - more than one-third of the total - will be affected by nearly 100 infrastructure projects this year as the city becomes one big construction site.