Citywide Renovations Continue to Change the Face of Beijing

By Justine Lopez, September 25, 2017

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It’s been months since the start of Beijing’s citywide ‘beautification campaign,’ but instead of winding down, construction has ramped up. By the end of July, almost 24,000 unauthorized windows and entrances around the capital had been bricked up, China Daily reports.

The demolitions began last October, when Baochao Hutong was bricked, but began in earnest in March, when some of Beijing’s most popular spots fell victim to the city-mandated construction. Bulldozers razed Sanlitun’s notorious ‘Dirty Bar Street’ in April. A month later, expat favorite Fangjia Hutong was bricked up. And in July, 4,000 sqm of illegal structures in the Shichahai area were torn down.

Guards block off Fangjia hutong as workers brick the street up

Later this summer, renovations reached beyond Dongcheng and Chaoyang, much to the distaste of businessowners elsewhere who thought their less-trafficked neighborhoods might be spared. Jun Trinh, of Houhai restaurant 4corners, thought his Xicheng district address might work in his favor – until bulldozers tore through Gulou Xidajie, just behind his place.

“It’s like a virus,” Trinh tells That’s Beijing, as demolition begins in the area. “It’s hitting the main streets first, but will probably stretch into smaller hutongs like this one. We don’t know.”

READ MORE: The Citywide Renovations Changing Beijing As We Know It

And while much attention has been given to closures of expat-oriented bars, the renovations have hit far-away locations and private residences, too.

Entire communities in suburban neighborhoods of Tongzhou district have been ‘beautified.’ Down south in Panjiayuan, formerly busy shops have been smashed and paved over.

Rubble from demolished businesses litters the streets in Tongzhou district

Meanwhile, signs are still being posted on hutong walls, informing residents and business owners that the bricks will be coming soon. Many business owners scramble to sell the last of their inventory before construction workers close their shops.

Despite controversy surrounding the construction, many believe that the campaign will ultimately benefit Beijing residents by making the city more modern, clean and livable.

Even Trinh, of 4corners, admits: “There are some structures that are unsafe, [so] what the government is doing may help with safety hazards.”

According to the Beijing Overall Urban Development Plan, released in March, the plan is to transform the capital into a world-class city. Efforts began last year and will continue until 2030, China Daily reports.

The capital also aims to cap its population at 23 million by 2020, which will improve overcrowding and congestion. In addition, 15 new parks are being created this year alone, meaning that 77 percent of residents will soon have a park within 500 meters of their home.

City authorities also plan to clean up a total of 1,700 alleys – roughly two-thirds of Beijing’s hutongs. In August, a series of guidelines were announced to ensure that all ancient residential blocks in Dongcheng are restored in a manner that preserves their traditional character. The 12-article guidelines detail how the buildings will look, from the architecture and aesthetic to the landscaping and the color of the walls (gray).

Photos portraying pristine-looking structures dot the walls of bricked up hutongs, advertising what neighborhoods will look like once the renovations are complete (basically a squeaky-clean, less-chaotic version of how the areas currently appear).

A visual plan for what was once known as Sanlitun’s ‘Dirty Bar Street’ has also been circulating, revealing an immaculate, yet sanitized, pedestrian street.

Love it or hate it, the renovations are a work-in-progress. Progress? That remains to be seen. There’s only one thing we can say for sure: Beijing is changing fast.

Additional reporting by Vivian Liu

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