Lilong housing, being of the most prevalent mass housing and exclusively built before 1949, had once taken on 60% ~ 70% of downtown land. Currently they account for 38.65% of gross floor-area of Shanghai housing (old and new), and their occupants make up more than a half of the city's population.(Yu, 1992, p.148)
As a key player in urban tissue and crucial components in housing package, lilong housing encounter intense challenge in contemporary urban renewal, which has stormed big cities of China during the new economic development era. A large part of lilongs (mainly Shi-ku-men type) are equipped with crude, backward facilities that needs major and fundamental upgrading. The problem exposed are categorized below:
First, the congestion due to subdivision (in post-design stage) of the original space, cause the living condition improper and the living area per capita too low for the modern standard. The subdivided rooms are often separated only by wooden panels or plywood planks, thus the interference of noise between neighbors are imaginable.
Second, the living facilities in lilongs especially Shi-ku-men type are not complete. According to a sample inspection conducted in Shi-ku-men lilongs, 56.2% families have no private kitchens; 72.5% families have no gas supplying appliances and have to depend on briquette stoves which cause serious pollution; and over 99% families are not equipped with toilet facilities and thus have to use nightstools (Yu, 1992, p.149-150).
Third, the aging structure and low maintenance & repair have resulted in deterioration or collapse of many lilongs. The majority of existing Shi-ku-men buildings have being existence for more than sixty years, with some exceeding seventy years. Some lilong buildings have been observed to suffer from leaking, slanting, cracking and eroding problems (Yu, 1992, p.150).
Currently, the urban renewal programs of the municipality contains rehabilitation (adaptation) and regeneration of houses in the old district, both includes tasks of relocating residents from their original communities and construction of large amount of stereotyped buildings in the city's outskirts. Though the physical part of living condition including floor-area standard per person is improved in the newly built multi-storied or high-rise housing developments, the emotional appeal and living qualities fostered in the old residential districts fade away. Difficulties in transportation arises. Inconvenience in shopping accompanies. People are deprived of their opportunities from ground-related living and hence lose their frequent ground-related pattern of social interaction. Residents more often meet in elevators but seldom greet to each other. The sense of security and social cordiality, and the idea of being a collective and helping each other when difficulties occurs, so strong in the traditional pattern of lilong settlement, are diminished.
On the other hand, land developers in downtown strive to exploit every inch of transferred land, by putting up expensive, multi-functional high-rise towers or point-blocks of offices, residence or the combined, to pursue the utmost profit. If this trend continues, the downtown Shanghai will be utilized to operate for commerce, finance and business, and to accommodate those privileged or rich who can afford to stay. The city's demographic profile will change. The city's urban tissues will be reorganized. Evenly-distributed, linear pattern of commercial streets will be gradually engulfed by the concentrated mega-structured commercial shopping centers. The active street life based on humane scales and relying on sufficient numbers of downtown dwellers will thus dry up. The cultural tradition and social values so distinctive in this trade city will vanish, and Shanghai will follow the mistake in its urban development history that many North American cities had made in their fast urbanization.
The decentralization and suburbanization once prevailed in North American has caused, to some degree, the segregation of residential and commercial activities, the dull atmosphere of downtown street life, and large waste of urban infrastructure, etc. However, living standard and vast national resources of land in these countries can still enable people living in suburb to commute to downtown more easily than people living in a developing country, as automobiles in North America is an affordable and common means for daily transportation. But in China, the huge population has placed automobiles an undependable transportation means for ordinary people due to the scarce land for parking, let alone to say, people can't afford them except a few extremely rich. Under this situation, people in Shanghai will be more unwilling to commute to downtown once they are relocated far from city center, and thus the segregation of different activities and zones, and the under-used city service and infrastructure will have more devastating effects.
The study of lilongs as an urban form aims at, apart from clarifying its design concepts and ideas, exploring its positive factors which have made this pattern of dwelling pleasurable and appealing. By stressing some sensitive issues involved in the contemporary housing development in Shanghai in a comparison with valuable experience drew from lilong dwelling, this thesis wish to contribute to a comprehensive understanding of real qualities of urban dwelling, and to call on architects and planners, to apply the essence of lilong concepts in new housing design, and to heighten their sense of social responsibility in making our cities and dwelling environment, not only physically but also socially, culturally and environmentally, more livable.