Posts Tagged ‘nail houses’

Building Beijing

06/04/2010

An opportunity has been lost with the selection of para-historian Tristram Hunt as Labour PPC for the revolting safe seat of Stoke-on-Trent Central. Now he will be unable to apply his academic area of expertise in urban history – as seen in his 2004 book, Building Jerusalem – to current events in China.

The Daily Telegraph reports on the latest phase in the ongoing mass urban development in Beijing achievable only in an authoritarian, One Party state (more here). After two decades of bulldozing individual hutongs (alleyways), plans have been announced to demolish Gulou or Old Beijing. Classified in 2002 as a Historical and Cultural Protected Area by the Beijing municipal government, this 13 hectare area is situated around the historic Drum and Bell Towers, and parts date back to the Yuan Era.

Just as Hunt’s Building Jerusalem opened with the Ivanhoe-like Eglington Tournament of 1839, the urban planners of Beijing intend to turn the district into a historical-themed tourist centre. Yet, Eglington was a monstrous folly, rained-out on the first day.

The inhabitants of Gulou should no more be required to sit in the pickle jar of ‘unspoiled’ tourist experience as they should be turfed out to re-create Walter Scottified ‘authentic’ tourist experience.  The cramping conditions of the hutongs, including communal toilets could be compared to the pre-1960s tenements of inner-city Glasgow, but the Soviet-style replacements have not necessarily brought civic pride to the area. Gulou appears to be a functioning community with that ‘lived-in feeling’, now lost in the nearby Qianmen Dajie thoroughfare which has been denounced as “killing business” even by the Beijing municipal government website.

(more…)

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