Staff Blogger at SAIS Nanjing
The quiet Wuhan community that my grandparents call home is a place where the streets and buildings are the fixtures of childhood and adolescent visits. Near the sleepy, small lake bordering a hospital and several secondary schools, the community of ShuiGuoHu (水果湖) is a place where I can navigate the streets just as easily as in my Maryland neighborhood.
I have always remembered these streets as a place that families called home; these streets also housed many eateries, bakeries, shops and plazas where friends could meet. I came and went from such a neighborhood in summer of 2011, and since then the image of the neighborhood has remained static for quite some time, its buildings unchanged and homes fixed where I knew them to be.
It is unrealistic of me to expect aspects of memory to stay as they are. People will age, and so will buildings. In a China that continuously strives to build bigger, better and richer cities, aging buildings in the limited borders of cities such as Wuhan represent development spaces.
This year, I came back to a community that seemed to have sprouted high-end hotels and shopping streets within the short span of two years. Some of the smaller greengrocers, stores, and apartment buildings were completely stripped away. I cannot say where these residents and shopkeepers have gone. In their place is a shopping street that is designed from paving stones to roofs with modernity in mind.
These streets with lit-up Starbucks signs and glimmering jewelry store displays aim to draw the attention and wallets of young consumers. When my grandparents and I take a look at the shopping street, packed to the brim with people, I notice that there are few shoppers under forty.
Wuhan cannot thrive off childhood memories and a desire to keep communities the way that they always have been. This is evident in the intent of investors, perpetually pushing resources into communities such as ShuiGuoHu.
The Wan-Da Group, a Housing Development firm, invested over 540 billion RMB into the shopping street by my grandparents’ home. Whether the shops and housing in the area will pay dividends to the community’s residents, however, remains an open question. I wonder how much of it will be directed back into the community of ShuiGuoHu and how much will line the pockets of executives. As Wuhan continues to develop I find myself asking which parts of it will be inevitably left in the past.