The area now known as Xintiandi was one of the poorest in Shanghai before Hong Kong-based property developers Shui On Group and American architect Ben Wood rejuvenated the area by razing it to the ground and rebuilding with a design generally reflecting the shikumen-style lane houses originally built on the site.
The well-polished end result of the rebuild is a trendy place to eat and drink – one that is often crowded with tourists as Xintiandi is a stop on every city bus tour. For those tourists, there are the requisite luxury shops being worn like earrings by the area itself, though don’t expect to see the trappings of other public tourist areas such as the Bund with its hawkers and pick pockets. Between tourist buses, the main square is relaxed and retains the charm of its architecture – as well as 24-hour private security on site.
Xintiandi is now lauded as a model of cultural preservation and in many ways can be seen as a pioneer in creating a viable business model that does not include high-rise buildings. The lack of genuine authenticity leads to a level of derision regarding the area by some expats and locals alike. It’s true that nearby Tianzifang is much more authentic but also a stop on the tour bus circuit so even more crowded given the narrow lanes and alleys of the original houses.
Strictly speaking, Xinatiandi is a two block area with a boundary formed by Huaihai Lu to the north, Fuxing Lu to the south, Huangpi Lu to the west and Xizang Lu to the east. The area surrounding the development has economically evolved into a boutique shopping and dining area as well.
Though distinct in its own right, Xintiandi still offers some wonderful French Concession-style housing options in addition to the Luxury serviced apartments that have sprung up on the periphery. These apartments have helped make Xintiandi one of the more desirable addresses in the city. Proximity to Fuxing Park and the heart of the city mean that everything is nearby.
Directly to the north of Xintiandi across Yan An Elevated Road is People’s Square – the functional and cultural heart of the city. It’s home to The Shanghai Municipal Government (City Hall), Shanghai Museum, Shanghai Grand Theatre and Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall.
People’s Square was once home to a racetrack similar to the Happy Valley racetrack in Hong Kong that is still vibrant today. Today the area is People’s Park, and a vital green space for the residents of the area. It has a man-made lake, some good restaurants and makes a great place for a morning jog. If you have kids, there is a small amusement park hidden at the centre of People’s Park.
Outside the relative tranquillity of People’s Park, living in People’s Square is Shanghai living set at maximum. It is the city’s transportation hub and sees countless people pass through it each day starting early in the morning commuters from all directions converge on the square to catch an army of tour buses leaving for factories and businesses on the fringes of the city.
For many locals, traveling from the outskirts of one side of the city to the opposite side for work means a commute of more than 90 minutes one way. Depending on where your office is, living in People’s Square within walking distance of the Metro station, can mean a significant reduction in daily commute times. This is an important factor for many.
There are numerous high-end serviced apartments available in the area as well as luxurious apartments in historic buildings that have been renovated and modernized. The architecture is stunning and gives the whole area a very European feel once you get out of the square and onto the side streets on your way to the Bund. Art deco buildings that have been fully restored to their former glory dot the area.
On the Bund, you will find the best Shanghai has to offer in terms of fine dining and drinking as well as budget places without the view and even some dive bars to grab a cheap beer.
While People’s Square may not be family-friendly for the most part, for those who want to feel like they are at the beating heart of China, it may be the right choice.