Archive for March 4th, 2007

China’s Urban Centers: Construction/Destruction

Perhaps it’s time for Beijing to take a page out of Shangai’s book.

While China’s capital city has been busy with the steamroller – so far leveling about 20 square km of old neighborhoods called hutong and displacing nearly 580,000 people (source link & photos) – at least part of Shanghai has been embracing and reviving their aging spaces.

The port city’s Lane 248, “a narrow street filled with, among other things, old bicycles, yam carts and clotheslines dripping with laundry,” is becoming quite the fashionable spot, according to Andrew Yang of The New York Times:

[…] where mega-developments are the norm, the small stone houses known as shikumen along Lane 248 are being lovingly restored and converted into trendy boutiques, patisseries and cafes. Since last summer, nearly two dozen shops have opened. (full story)

Yang continues to say that the area, unlike “master-planned” entertainment districts, is “a community with deep roots.” Lane 248 sounds absolutely lovely, and perhaps more importantly in this age of booming globalization, unique.

It’s a shame that Beijing is wiping away it’s character to indulge a Western notion of modernity. Bicycling through the city’s hutong was probably one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had in my life – coasting along dusty paved alleyways, passing by aparments, fruit stands, tea joints and Internet cafes, safe from the madness of Beijing’s increasingly auto-centric thoroughfares.

These areas are ripe for the kind of transformations that revitalized Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Buenos Aires’ Puerto Madero, and Shanghai’s Lane 248. But instead, the sterilization continues, relics of China’s past further swept under the rug.

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March 2007