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Yangpu riverside pioneers urban renewal through historic preservation



The Yangpu waterfront, once a cornerstone of China's industrial revolution, will be officially recognized next week as a national demonstration zone for the protection and adaptive reuse of industrial heritage sites, authorities said.

This riverside area along the Huangpu River, known as the birthplace of China's modern industries, includes the nation's first water, electricity, shipbuilding, and textile companies.

The 15.5-kilometer waterfront stretch is being transformed from "industrial rust belt" into a vibrant "living show-belt."

"It now symbolizes a successful blend of urban modernity and rich cultural heritage," Hu Lin, director of the Yangpu Culture Heritage Bureau, told a press briefing on Thursday.

Yangpu, once central to Shanghai's development, is home to landmarks such as China's first modern water plant and the largest thermal power plant in East Asia.

The area contributed to one-quarter of Shanghai's and one-20th of China's total industrial output. Time-honored brands, such as Forever and Phoenix bikes and Shanghai Watch entered the domestic market from Yangpu.

President Xi Jinping said during his 2019 visit to the Yangpu riverside that: "It's essential to properly handle the relationship between preservation and development and to respect and care for the old structures of the city just like we do with the elderly."

The bureau has launched various preservation initiatives.

"We are committed not just to preserving buildings but reviving stories and memories," Hu said.

One of the standout projects involves the preservation of the Yangshupu Water Plant, a national heritage site. Utilizing Building Information Modeling (BIM) technology, the project aims to set an example on how to apply scientific methods and fine craftsmanship to the preservation of industrial heritage, said Hu.

Another key undertaking is the adaptive reuse of the former Shanghai Shipyard, now transformed into a thriving cultural and commercial space, balancing historical integrity with modern functionality, she added.

The transformation also includes repurposing historical factories into dynamic spaces for art and community activities. Many of the old riverside warehouses, for instance, now host art exhibitions. The Yangshupu Power Plant Relics Park, with many supportive facilities of the power plant preserved, has become a beloved public green space.

Zhou Minghao, executive deputy dean of the Institute of Precision Governance of Mega-Cities at Tongji University, said his team has undertaken oral history research, while digitizing numerous historical documents and photographs about the waterfront.

"These efforts lower barriers for public participation, encouraging involvement from various societal sectors," Zhou said.

Former model workers and experts, for instance, who once worked in the factories along the waterfront were invited to narrate their experiences and memories about the riverside area in a TV documentary series.

One of the narrators Ge Jun, former deputy chief economist of the Shanghai Shipyard, reflected on his 43-year tenure. "Joining the shipyard at 17 and witnessing its transformation has left me with profound emotions," Ge said.

He expressed pride in Yangpu's century-long legacy.

"Being part of this community always fills me with pride," Ge added.