Housing renovation is always a test of endurance for community workers who have to balance residents' demands with solutions for leaks, elevator installations and other problems.
Xu Yiming, deputy director of the housing repair management center in Putuo District, is one of the leading experts in the field. With his and the center's help, Putuo renovated about 5 million square meters of old residential buildings in 2020, a third of the city’s total.
As part of the urban renewal campaign, Shanghai has demolished almost every shantytown in recent decades. Residents living in these dilapidated buildings have been relocated to modern communities. For those living in old buildings in decent condition, renovations are a way to improve their living environments.
Putuo is home to many of the city’s earliest workers’ communities that sprung up in the 1950s to accommodate model workers. These apartment buildings have been in poor condition and required makeovers.
Xu led his team to reinforce the structures of the old apartment buildings, convert flat roofs into slopes to prevent leaks and install elevators to help seniors move around more easily.
For buildings without private toilets and kitchens, the center launched an initiative to rebuild internal structures and provide each household with its own toilet.
Such projects have been carried out in 68 buildings across Putuo, covering more than 100,000 square meters, benefiting over 2,800 households. The government covers all the expenses.
“I solve residents' problems as if they were my own parents,” said Xu. “I cannot let my parents suffer. I feel a great sense of accomplishment because my job improves people's quality of life."
It is not an easy task to satisfy various demands and make everyone happy during the renovations. Xu has to work overtime to negotiate with residents while coordinating with design and construction companies.
“The job requires not only professional knowledge and skills but also patience and devotion,” said Hong Yan, director of the center.
Last year, Xu oversaw renovation projects in about 150 neighborhoods and attended around 350 negotiation and 1,000 construction meetings. During peak periods, Xu managed more than 5,000 construction workers, according to Hong.
The 37-year-old Shanghai native left his previous job — project manager for the Shanghai Construction Group — and joined the center in August 2015, where Xu said his skills are more applicable. He graduated from Shanghai University of Engineering Science with a project management degree.
“A project manager usually deals with new construction projects, but a housing renovation official has to deal with both the problems of old buildings and the demands of residents,” Xu said.
He took over renovations for the Kangtai apartment building in 2020, which was built in 1997 along Suzhou Creek. The city government created continuous paths along the creek last year by opening up riverside neighborhoods like Kangtai.
To persuade residents to turn their riverside gardens into public paths, Xu promised to help them solve many housing issues during the renovation. He made a list of 45 projects, including reinforcing the structure, improving the environment, optimizing pipelines and planting additional greenery.
He also made plans to convert flat roofs into slow slopes to solve the leakage problems.
Many residents who at the beginning strongly opposed opening their riverside space eventually agreed.
Xu designed electric fences, smart surveillance cameras and new entrance guards to ensure the safety of the neighborhood.
The riverside path in Putuo is now open to the public, stretching 21 kilometers.
After the coronavirus outbreak in January 2020, Xu designed a WeChat mini program to manage construction workers returning to Shanghai from their hometowns after the Spring Festival holiday.
Under Xu's management, more than 4,000 workers quickly returned to their workplaces in 75 old communities across Putuo. All renovation projects resumed by April.
To ensure fire safety during renovations, Xu designed a spraying system for rooftops. The design has been included in the fire safety guidance of the city’s housing authority and will be promoted citywide.
Xu is described as a “time management master” and “living GPS” by his colleagues. He lives in Yangpu District and has to drive nearly an hour to Putuo every day.
He works seven days a week and often hosts meetings until late at night to discuss renovation plans with residents.
Yao Xiaohong, a property management company official for Lantian Mansion, a landmark apartment building in Shiquan Subdistrict, recalls how Xu coordinated with residents to decide what color to paint the old building.
The mansion on Zhongshan Road N. was built more than 20 years ago and is nicknamed the "coffee building" because of its color. During the latest renovation last October, many old residents asked to restore the building's original features while improving facilities in the neighborhood.
Xu hosted several meetings with the neighborhood committee as well as design and construction firms to determine the best color, which turned out to be cappuccino.
Xu’s apprentice Ni Xiaochun said Xu can recognize every small path in Putuo, because he often visits sites to check on preparations and construction schedules.
Whenever an apartment leaks, Xu takes Ni to residents’ homes for inspections. Many long-term issues troubling residents have been solved this way.
“Many complaints from residents have resulted in letters of thanks,” Ni said.
The Putuo government received one of these letters from a group of residents in the Baiyu Community in January.
The letter titled “why Shanghai is outstanding” recalls the efforts of Xu and other community workers who helped renovate their leaking rooftops and solve many other long-term issues.
“Shanghai is outstanding not only because of the Lujiazui financial hub and Oriental Pearl TV Tower, but also because the city provides a sense of belonging to ordinary residents,” the letter says.