A city is a complicated system, the crib of innovation, and the carrier of residents’ memories. In the second semester of the 2020 school year, students from Shanghai International Division, Grade 7th and 8th of the “Future City Research Project” after-school club, explored ways to improve our city. Led by professional teachers, they put practice into possible solutions to build a better city by deepening their understanding of the urban texture.
At the start of the semester, students studied the development of Shanghai City and understood the concrete operation of modern cities. After that, they went to ShunChang rd block and Xintiandi block many times for field research. Both blocks are located in the Huangpu district, a mixture of classical and modern. Starting from Xintiandi, students walked through the streets and alleyways, recorded what they saw along the way, feeling the direct impact brought by ever-changing urban construction, and analyzing the interwoven collision between historic buildings, such as the site of the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China, the Shikumen Open House Museum and the fashion business district. During visits and investigations, the students noticed deep-rooted practical problems such as wires, pipes, and toilet facilities in the depth of the lane. They also felt sorry for the century-old shops and street culture that would disappear with the demolition. After investigating the renovation project of the community, the students received more information, gradually defined the research topic, conceived, and determined the final direction of the project—Shunchang Road Memory Board.
Creating Memories Together
“Let the city retain its memory, let people remember their homesickness.”
At the end of the course, the students changed their identities from participants to co-creators and recorders of urban memories. Planned and initiated by students, the activity of “map of Shunchang Road Memory” was held at 410 Shunchang Road as scheduled, attracting residents to watch and participate. Dai Xuelin, deputy secretary of Huaihai Middle Road Sub-District Party Working Committee, Ni Minxue, secretary of second party branch of SHSID and director of the Middle and Primary School Teaching Affairs Center, attended the launching ceremony. The event also attracted several well-known media in Shanghai to document the practice of the younger generation passing on the memories of the city.
Through the real-time “co-create” mode, students hope to do their best to help record the bits and pieces Shunchang Road has brought to the surrounding residents. Beforehand, with help from the teachers, students designed the “Shun Chang” activity logo. They combed through the development process of Shunchang Road, interviewed the neighborhood committee members, and old residents to obtain more historical details. They measured the surrounding blocks, visited the still-existing shops, and created the initial appearance of the co-creation map.
Before the activity officially started, they moved tables and chairs, placed souvenirs, and prepared memory cards. They finished a series of tedious but necessary chores and waited for the residents to come and give them back the initiative of memories.
On the same day, nearly a thousand residents and friends who came to share their cherished memories of Shunchang Road wrote down their memories and impressions on memory cards, took photos with them, or leaned over and kissed them. They looked at the map and found their old homes or places they used to visit, and they lingered long in front of the map with a sigh.
Every word they wrote down was condensed into an enormous memory map of Shunchang Road. In addition, the students also recorded their private memories in video form, such as the theater and bookshop they used to go to when they were young, the dumplings and noodles they liked to eat, the grocery store, and the tailor shop they used to go to.
“I think it’s a very meaningful activity. It is not a course where the teacher imparts knowledge, and the students absorb it, but a process that encourages students to discover real-life problems on their own. From the beginning of the expedition to Shunchang Road, and then to the students thinking of their solutions, and even expanding their ideas to an actual exhibition, in which not only did we exercise our thinking skills but also learned to carry the responsibility of our own work.”
“I was in charge of the interviews on the day of the event. After interviewing residents and asking them about their feelings, I found that their biggest regret was that they ‘couldn’t let go of this street.’ Indeed, this is a street that carries the memories of the old generation in Shanghai, and it is a piece of land that has kept the old Shanghai. It is an honor for me to participate in this event and to preserve the voices of the residents in its last days.”
“As I watched everyone happily take away small gifts with the Shunchang logo, I couldn’t help but browse through the sentences on the map again: ‘Memories of decades of growing up,’ ‘Smooth and prosperous’......I was suddenly overwhelmed with all kinds of feelings. Just beside the soon demolishing Shunchang Road community is the highly developed Xintiandi business district. Under such a contrast, the reason why these old buildings in Shunchang Road are facing demolition becomes even more obvious—the old buildings cannot meet the needs of modern times. Although these old Shikumens carry the memories of several generations, demolition is already on the table, but what can be done to at least keep these memories?”
“This project has taught me that in order to think about the city of the future, it is important to look not only at the current city situation but also at the previous ones.”
“This event is very meaningful, both for the residents of Shunchang Road and for us. It urged us to exercise our ability to think and practice activities. For the residents of Shunchang Road, this activity gave them a way to keep their memories in the soon to- be-demolished district.”
Move on with Memories that Shall Forever Follow
From initial inspiration to forming the archetype, from the planning to the step-by-step implementation, this initiative consolidated the painstaking efforts of all of us.
“Shunchang Road Memory Board” co-creation activity aims to protect and carry on the individual life memories of Shunchang Road, an ancient street. With the rapid development and renewal of cities, the students had a taste of China’s accelerated construction achievements and realized that people’s lives have always been deeply rooted in urban space. It is the interaction between residents and living spaces that makes the city grow and grow full of warmth and hope. Before the memories of old streets disappear for good with the change of time, the students looked back and tried their best to collect fragments of such memories to preserve them. Although the “Future City Research Project” in this semester has come to an end, students will continue their journey of exploring urban culture, exploring urban problems, and making contributions to the development of cities.
(Written by 8(12)Ivy, 8(12)Tiffany Supervised by Yu Manqing Pictures by SimpliCity Edited by Huang Shiyuan, Mikah Jimenez)