Over the years Yu Gardens has been transformed time and again. What was once the center of a small inland fishing village, Yu Gardens was home to the schools, market, religious sites and execution grounds, among other things. Homes ringed the market, spiraling outwards forming a sort of pre-dated suburbia. Nearby, the Huangpu River, provided the bulk of the city’s resources from fish to birds, seaweed, salt and other commodities. Across the river was an island called Pudong, a barren field of grasses used for weaving baskets and mats for flooring.
Today, Pudong is the financial and business hub of China, and the skyscrapers soar above the clouds. The are around Yu Gardens is ringed in mid-level tours, and a subway line opened in 2010 that deposits tourists from around the world directly at the doorstop to Yu Gardens. What were once shoddy roads ringing the area have been broadened into boulavards, planted with trees and ringed with plants and palms. The whole area has gone from a run down but important tourist area to the modern specticle it is today.
Yu Gardens itself, the market area that was converted into high end retail shops and coffee and tea houses, was converted into its present state some ten years ago, making it a renovated version of its former self. Nearby, the dragon mall has opened offering more high end shopping. What remains unique and special about Yu Gardens, however, are the hutong alleyways that jet off from Yu Gardens and offer a glimpse at old world Shanghai. You’ll find locals doing business on these streets much the same way they must have 100 years ago. Selling shoe soles, toys, umbrellas and corn on the cob. They sit, smoke cigarettes and watch the strange new people walk past.