South China’s Guangzhou rejuvenates historical street through “mini-transformation”


By He Linping, People’s Daily


Yongqing Fang, a historical street in Guangzhou, capital of South China’s Guangdong Province, has taken on a brand new look and is increasingly popular among young people, thanks to the “mini-transformation” program implemented by the local government to upgrade and renovate old city.


Bruce Lee’s ancestral home near Yongqing Fang, which was built by Lee’s father Li Haiquan in the 1940s, was renovated by the program.


While its previous architectural features were restored, the renovated residence is now a tourist attraction where visitors can get a close contact of the ancestral home of the Kung Fu master, watch clips of Lee’s movies, and experience orthopedics treatment of traditional Chinese medicine in a newly-built martial art health center.


Enning Road centering around Yongqing Fang is a historical and cultural block covering an area of 120,000 square meters. Boasting the most well-preserved Qilou buildings, or arcade-style buildings in Guangzhou, the block had witnessed the convergence and prospering of traditional culture and many folk handicrafts.


However, as the center of the city has moved eastward, buildings of the block were long neglected and fell into disrepair. Surface of the roads were damaged, and the cables and underground sewage network also became aged.


Even the once flourishing traditional culture and folk handicrafts faded, and most young people started to leave the place for the outside world.


In 2016, Guangzhou put forward an idea of “mini-transformation”, which aimed to renew and repair old buildings while maintaining the original structure and exterior of them.


Modern architectural elements were adopted to better the space structure and transform the interior of the buildings, so that they can better meet the needs of modern activities.


The phase one transformation of Yongqing Fang was completed in October 2016, when the roads had been newly paved with granite stones; the cables, once interweaving with each other overhead, had been buried underground; and meadows and public spaces were also planned in between of buildings.


The ancillary facilities, including community health service centers, drainage, illumination, fire extinguishing and communication systems had also been drastically upgraded.


Li Yuqiong’s and her brother’s families have lived in the houses inherited from their parents for six decades on No.20 Yongqing street. In the past, the street was troubled by poor road condition and frequent traffic congestion.


Water gathered easily near their doors in rainy days, Li disclosed, adding that they had lasting safety concern about the cables under the eaves whenever there was a thunder.


After the “mini-transformation” program was implemented, tourists started to visit the block in droves. Therefore Li gave up the idea of moving out, and even started a stall outside her home to sell traditional local snacks, such as beef offal with turnips and pig trotters stewed with ginger. Sometimes she can make several hundred yuan a day.


What’s more, a once dilapidated residence across the way of Li’s house has been turned into a fashionable café.


“It was more difficult to renovate such a building than to replace it with a new one,” a member of the renovation team from China Vanke Co., Ltd., told the People’s Daily, disclosing that the bricks in the walls were tailored to match the original color, and those with color difference from the original ones were not used.


A carp-shaped outfalls on the roofs were restored, too, said the member, adding “They are the characteristics of architectures in South China, though they are not necessarily functional now.”


The “mini-transformation” program was designed to remove the dilapidated parts and keep people’s memories of the old buildings, for which meticulous efforts are required.


“It’s way better than large-scale demolition and reconstruction, as the original structure, features, and spatial environment were maintained,” said Jiang Weihui, a researcher of the housing and urban-rural development bureau of Liwan district, Guangzhou.


A movable-type printing shop beside the ancestral residence of Bruce Lee is now very popular among the young people since its opening. Customers can have a go on the ancient printing method in the shop and print their own names with the movable components at a cost of 20 to 30 yuan ($2.8 to $4.2).


Lai Zhaoyang, owner of the shop, has worked in printing and publishing industry for 20 years, and opened the shop as he has always been fascinated by movable-type printing, one of the four great inventions of ancient China.


He selected Yongqing Fang as the location of the shop because the street highly matches with his idea of bringing the traditional technique back to life in the modern age.


“A block will lose vitality inevitably if it lacks young people,” said Ma Xiangming, chief engineer of Guangdong Urban and Rural Planning and Design Institute.


From the perspective of urban development, a neighborhood gets old because industries and living conditions there can no longer meet the needs of modern society, Ma said, adding that young people will not return to old blocks if the businesses environment isn’t improved, no matter how well the buildings are renovated.


The transformed Yongqing Fang is now the cradle for young entrepreneurs. The completed phase one transformation project of the street has attracted 60 shops and businesses, including cultural and creative shops, boutique home-stay hotels, light meal restaurants, and media companies, becoming a popular base for young “makers.”


Today, Yongqing Fang has become a must-visit tourist spot in Guangzhou, with popular cafes, cultural and creative shops, and home-stay hotels attracting a great number of young visitors.


Last year, the average number of visitors to the ancient street hit 3,000 per day during weekdays and 5,000 on weekends at the peak time.

Yongqing Fang is packed with visitors on May 3. (Photo: Courtesy of China Vanke Co., Ltd.)

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