Shanghai’ s Lontangs (or Lilong) are examples of how urban living can be far from anonymous and isolated. They are to Shanghai what Hutongs are to Beijing-- village like communities made up of lanes in the middle of a sprawling metropolis.
Wandering around these back alleys is to step back in Shanghai’s history. Lontangs, or lane homes, were built in the 1920s by British and French colonialists and were originally single-family homes. When the Communists took over multiple families were moved into these residences. At one time they made up the majority of housing in Shanghai.
The pace moves slower in Longtangs than it does in the hustle and bustle of the surrounding city. Residents sit outside watching the world go by. Children play while elders gossip. Passersby greet one another. Street vendors tout their goods.
A few stories tall apartments are typically on the top and shops on the ground floor on the main streets of Longtang housing, which are essentially townhouses. Living space expands into the lanes. A lounge chair and cooking pots sit side by side. Alleys are punctuated with hanging laundry. All that anyone would need is sold within a few blocks ranging from a wide variety of food to bicycle repair shops.
Like the Hutongs of Beijing many are also being demolished and replaced with modern high rises. A Longtang community I like to wander through close to the hotel I call home when in Shanghai was half torn down when I was there last. What was left fell in the shadow of newly built towering apartment blocks. The remainder of the old neighborhood probably no longer exists.