Owners of homes in the way of progress have begun joining forces to protect their rights and get better compensation When the wreckers arrived in Suzhou Road last November, they brought dozens of police and crowbars to break down the doors of the 27 families which were still refusing to make way for urban development. The evictions marked the end of a long dispute involving protests by more than 100 people demanding greater compensation for leaving their homes on the bank of Suzhou Creek in the heart of Shanghai. 'We believed we had no other way except to protest,' said one of the last holdouts from the neighbourhood. Protests are rising as Shanghai knocks down dilapidated housing - much dating from before the communists took power in 1949 - and creates its vision of an international city with gleaming office towers. The city faces the delicate task of balancing development with the demands of people who have come to expect the government to provide a higher standard of living. Protests over relocation for property projects and infrastructure work in Shanghai date to the early 1990s, when the central government gave the green light for the city to develop after decades of neglect. When planners cleared the way for an elevated highway to cut through the densely populated downtown several years ago, protests erupted. But something has changed in the past few months. Residents from various districts have started to band together, using an informal network of word of mouth and mobile phones to gather for protests. Previous demonstrations typically centred on single projects. Protesters said they felt newly empowered by the investigation of local property tycoon Chau Ching-ngai, who was reportedly detained last month for crooked land deals. 'This is a special time because of Zhou Zhengyi,' a protestor from central Huangpu district said, referring to the developer by the name he is known by on the mainland. Protest organisers have become savvy about contacting the media and some people have even taken their gripes to the capital, directly petitioning the central government. In a city such as Shanghai, where public protests are rare, successive demonstrations outside government offices, the courts and the train station since May have showcased a new activism. Nobody knows how many people are involved in the movement, though organisers said hundreds had taken part. Lawyer Zheng Enchong, who had advised residents on relocation cases, said he was aware of property disputes in every district of Shanghai. The city government estimated it had moved more than a million households over the past 20 years, and officials said there had been several hundred disputes over relocation. Government spokeswoman Jiao Yang said: 'With such mass relocation, it's not unusual that some conflicts have arisen. Most residents have given their understanding, support and co-operation towards the government's steps to build a new Shanghai.' Protesters do not care about preserving historic buildings, the loss of community of Shanghai's traditional alleyways or vague ideals such as democracy. Most just want more money for their old homes. Wang Lin claims she was never given a promised flat after her home in Yan'an Road was demolished in 1999. 'I'm not talking about human rights. This is about a place to live,' she said Scores of residents living off Zhonghua Road in alley 1436 now face a dilemma: accept the district government's offer for their old homes or try to fight city hall. The area sits near the old west gate of Shanghai's original Chinese city. The city gate is long gone, and now the 70-year-old, traditional style shikumen houses are slated for destruction. Demolition work has already started. Bamboo scaffolding covers the facades of the buildings facing the street. In the alley, rats scamper and water noisily drains from houses into open sewers. Yue Xinle has lived in the same place for more than 40 years. He has grown used to the dampness of his two rooms and the inconvenience of cooking and using the toilet in his tiny backyard. The 68-year-old retired chemical plant worker would like to move to a better home, but he is holding out for more money. The district has offered him 3,750 yuan (HK$3,515) per square metre for his 32 square metre dwelling. But Mr Yue said this would not pay for the 75 square metre home promised by the government. He was also unhappy the new flat was in a distant suburb of Pudong. He said the district should pay him 10,000 yuan a square metre, roughly the market price for a new home in his present location. The demand is extravagant, and Mr Yue has few options to negotiate. He can find a lawyer to bring a lawsuit, but that costs money and courts tend to favour the government. He can lodge a complaint with a government office, but officials rarely act on these cases.