Chapter 3: Neighborhood Regeneration In Beijing

This chapter introduces neighborhood regeneration in the context of Beijing's inner city. It is divided in three parts. In the first part, the old city of Beijing is presented. The underlying principles which gave rise to the city's unique character are identified. The second part briefly reviews the history of neighborhood regeneration in Beijing and presents the current renewal program. The third part discusses the main issues involved in the regeneration process.

3.1. The context

a) The Old City of Beijing

Figure 3.1: China.

Beijing is located in the northwest part of the North China plains, at the same latitude as Lisbon and Washington, as illustrated by figure 3.1.

Its climate is rather inclement, with cold and windy winters and hot summers, although not as humid as Southern Asia. The proximity to the Gobi desert in the North creates a high incidence of sand storms and makes Beijing a very dusty city.

From the Feng Shui 1 point of view, the site chosen was considered ideal a great city: it is protected on the north, east and west sides by high mountain ranges, while the south side, which is the favored orientation in Chinese traditional planning, is wide open.

According to Zhou Lei (1988), director of the Center for the Study of the History of Peking, the first human settlement on the actual site of Beijing dates back to 500 000 years ago. Historians claim that the first city built on the site was founded around the XIth century B.C., under the Chi dynasty. Several cities successively occupied the site by later ruling dynasties (Jonathan, 1983). The history of Beijing as a capital started in the early XIIth century, with the founding of Zhong Du (the central capital), and spanned over more than 800 years and five dynasties, with few interruptions (Zhou in Stave, 1988). Beijing has been the capital of the People's Republic of China since 1949. Today, it is the largest telecommunications hub and information center in China (Zhang Zhiping, 1991).

Beijing's urban pattern and architectural features are remarkable and unique. Ever since Marco Polo's visit to China, Beijing has been the object of high praise from planners around the world. The renowned Danish architect Steen Eiler Rasmussen, in his bookTowns and Buildings (1951; v), states his admiration for Beijing in these words: "...[T]he entire city is one of the wonders of the World, in its symmetry and clarity a unique monument, the culmination of a great civilization." Similarly, the American city planner Edmund Bacon (1980; 244) describes the old city of Beijing as "possibly the greatest single work of man on the face of the earth."

For Andrew Boyd (1962; 63), the urban structure of Beijing clearly emerged from a "creation rather than an accretion" and differs from cities which developed spontaneously and organically around a small trading center. It is typical of major capitals like Washington, New Delhi, Ottawa, and Brasilia, which were designed as monumental centers of political power and administration. According to Zhou Lei, director of the Center for the Study of the History of Peking, the intrinsic function of the city is that of a center of politics and culture. Beijing was never a center of economy (Zhou, in Stave, 1988).

Beijing's urban tissue is a heritage of the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties and has remained intact until recent years (Zhou, in Stave, 1988). The Walled City of Beijing was composed of the Inner or Tartar City (neicheng ) in the north, and the Outer or Chinese City (waicheng ) in the south, covering about sixty-two square kilometers.

Figure 3.2: The old city of Beijing.

As illustrated in figure 3.2, the Old City follows a rigid grid street system with straight north-south and east-west orientations which overlaps a winding river network. Its plan is characterized by its central axis and its emphasis on hierarchy, regularity, horizontality and symmetry. The importance given to orientation and enclosure conforms to the traditional Chinese concept of space2, which is reflected in the organization of both the city and of the individual house.

The Old City is divided into twenty-nine square city blocks measuring 750 meters on each side (55 hectares). Such mega-blocks are surrounded by main commercial streets where convenient shop ping and public transport systems are located (He, 1990). The blocks are subdivided into long and narrow residential quarters by lanes called hutong 3, which run from east to west, from 80 to 100 meters apart. Such lanes are mainly used by pedestrians and bicycles, and most of them are unsuitable for motor vehicles (fig. 3.3) (He, 1990). This kind of layout not only affords residents easy access to transport and shopping centers, but keeps noisy traffic away from the residential areas.

Figure 3.3: View of a typical hutong.
Figure 3.4: View of an old neighborhood.

Until the 1950s, the old city was constituted principally of one-story courtyard houses domi nated by majestic trees, as depicted by Lu Junhua (1993-I; 27) from Tsinghua University:

"A bird's eye view of the sprawling districts of courtyard houses as they were until mid-century would reveal only a sea of greenery - a canopy of trees concealing a metropolis of hundreds of thousands of people - only occasionally broken by graceful, sloping roofs".

The horizontal skyline was occasionally disrupted by few temples and towers and dominated by the high city-walls.

But in the last fifty years, the forces of modernization and, more recently, the scarcity of land available for construction, have affected the once homogeneous structure of the old city of Beijing. In the 1950s, the massive city wall were demolished and replaced by the second ring-road. A large number of governmental institutions and factories were introduced to the inner-city area within residential quarters. Acres of the intricate and interlocking courtyard housing were demolished. in the 1980s, high-rise buildings were built along Chang'an Avenue, the main east-west axis separating the inner city from the outer city (fig. 3.5). As a result, the city has lost some of its original regularity and continuity. The once horizontal city now resembles a bowl, with high-rise buildings in the outskirts surrounding the one- to six-story structures of the inner city. The proportion of open space has been increased in the old city, but now concrete, rather than trees, dominates the scene (Lu, 1993).

Figure 3.5: First residential high-rise built in the inner-city of Beijing in the 1980s.
Figure 3.6: Administrative map of Beijing.

Today, greater metropolitan Beijing, spreading over 160 kilometers from east to west and 170 kilometers from north to south, has a population of about ten million 4 (Yu Yi, 1989). The municipality of Beijing is divided up into ten urban districts and several rural counties which are all organized under their own local government. The inner city is divided into four major districts: the West City District (Xi Shi Qu), the East City District (Dong Shi Qu ), the Xuan Wu District and the Chong Wen District (fig. 3.6). The old city covers an area of sixty-two square kilometers and suffers from serious over crowding, with a current registered population of four million inhabitants, five times the 1949 popula tion for the same area 5 (Yu Yi, 1989).

b) Traditional Housing

The Beijing courtyard house, or siheyuan, is considered one of the most interesting features of the Chinese traditional architecture (Hoa, 1981). It originates from the Han dynasty (200 B.C.-300 A.D.) and has a history as long as that of the city itself, having slowly developed over more than two thousand years (Casault, 1988). The siheyuan retains many of the characteristics of the feudal society from which present day China has evolved and reflects the traditional family system based on Confu cian patriarchal patterns6 (Ekblad & Werne, 1990).

Figure 3.7: Typical siheyuan (after Steen Eiler Rasmussen, 1951).

The Beijing courtyard house is typically composed of four pavilions surrounding a square courtyard (fig. 3.7). This ensemble is itself encompassed by a high wall which isolates the house from the outside world (Casault, 1988). Courtyard houses are generally arranged on north-south oriented lots, with the main pavilion facing south (Stave, 1988). The access gate is usually situated in the southeast corner, for sociocultural reasons linked to Feng Shui (Casault, 1988). Traditional houses consist of a timber framework with non-bearing gray brick walls, and a tiled roof (Zhou Wenzhen, 1983). Before the Revolution, the social status of the family was indicated by the dimensions and height of the buildings, as well as by the quality of the materials used in their construction (Zhang Bo, 1983).

The Beijing courtyard house constitutes a closely packed, ground-oriented form of housing which is the result of a long process of interaction between the built form and the social, economic, and cultural needs and habits of the people (Ekblad & Werne, 1990). The intimate scale and tranquil ambi ance of the courtyard create a strong sense of privacy and offer an ideal environment for raising chil dren (Mann, 1984). One of the most important characteristics of the siheyuan is its flexibility in accommodating growth and change: the courtyard allows for a whole range of outdoor activities and can provide additional space to accommodate relatives or to store diverse items (Mann, 1984).

The majority of the siheyuan found in Beijing today date from the late 19th century (IAURIF, 1987). Until the Revolution, they had undergone very little change in their built form and still closely resembled the model from which they evolved. According to Norbert Shoenauer (1992; 172), of McGill University.

"The traditional Peking house evolved over centuries and was shaped by collectively held conventions and traditions that changed very slowly. Moreover, since Chinese urban dwellers did not stress individuality in the design of their homes and craftsmen adhered to traditional structural forms, the Peking house changed little until the middle of this century."

However, since 1949, most of the siheyuan in Beijing's inner city have been altered through a series transformations. The extreme housing shortage and overpopulation in the inner city area have exerted a great pressure on the traditional houses. After the Revolution, as a first step to solve the housing crisis, traditional houses were subdivided to accommodate several unrelated households, re sulting in substantial reduction of the available floor area per household (Casault, 1987). Between five and ten households now share a compound originally intended for a single extended family (Hoog and Kennedy, 1979).

The 1976 earthquake also caused extensive damage to the centuries-old houses. After the earthquake, various forms of temporary shelters were erected in the yards, altering the houses' original state and hindering proper lighting and ventilation (Casault, 1987). Most building additions still re main standing today, used as kitchens, storage space, or as extra habitable space.

Figure 3.8: The transformation of the courtyard house.

According to professor Wu Liang Yong (1991; 52), with the lapse of time, traditional houses have "turned from courtyard houses, to multi-household compounds, and then to courtyardless compounds" 7 (Fig.3.8).

According to Yu Yi (1989), of Southeast University in Nanjing, the extremely low level of maintenance, due in part to the lack of public funds and the little proportion of home-ownership, also allowed climatic factors to contribute to the deterioration of the old housing. Traditionally, old houses were maintained regularly and rebuilt every thirty years by home-owners. But with the nationalization of housing, building maintenance has been neglected, resulting in the advanced state of dilapidation of the housing stock (Kirkby, 1985).

Figure 3.9: View of an overcrowded courtyard. Figure 3.10: View of a hutong today.

Today, there are still 800,000 people living in ten million square meters of old houses in Beijing's inner city, 80% of which are considered to be extremely inefficient in terms of overall city land use and highly substandard (He, 1993). The majority of courtyard houses lack basic sanitary facilities and services, and living conditions in traditional neighborhoods are rapidly deteriorating (Yang Yanmin, 1990). In the last ten years, thousands of traditional houses have been replaced by new developments and infrastructure. At this pace, it is estimated that the majority of the city's siheyuan will have disappeared in a few years.

This brief introduction to the context of the old city of Beijing will facilitate the understanding of the phenomenon of neighborhood regeneration and of its diverse implications, which are discussed in more details in the following section.

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3.2. Neighborhood regeneration

a) Definitions

As mentioned earlier, neighborhood regeneration can be defined as the renewal of existing residential quarters with the purpose of improving their present condition. For the purpose of this thesis, the term neighborhood regeneration is used to refer more specifically to the replacement of traditional housing districts in the inner city of Beijing by new residential projects.

Since the beginning of the century the idea of neighborhood had many different meanings, from that of being a unit of social analysis used by sociologists, to that of being a mere city block, then a self-sufficient spatial unit. With the rise of the urban renewal movement in the West, neighborhoods have become issue-oriented groups with a specific political goal. In recent years, the notion of neighborhood has evolved into a mere name given to a particular section of a city with which people identify themselves (Lynch, 1981).

The neighborhood can thus be defined as a physical entity of specific dimensions, as a group ing of a certain number of units or people, or as an area differentiated by social, cultural of historical factors. Kevin Lynch (1981) makes a distinction between local district, defined as an identifiable residential area; neighborhood, being a very small area within which people are acquainted, andcommunity, defined as a coherent social entity. However, in the context of city planning, physical size is most often used to identify neighborhoods. Classical planning doctrines have sized the ideal neighborhood to fit an elementary school, but according to Lynch (1981), such neighborhoods are themselves formed of smaller ones, which are comprised of fifteen to thirty families and no more than one hundred households. For him, the actual idea of neighborhood remains:

"at the scale of the very local unit, within which people are personally acquainted with each other in reason of residential proximity, where size, homogeneity, street pat tern, identity of boundaries, and common services, may play a definite role in promot ing control, present fit, and stability " (Lynch, 1981; 246).

Jane Jacobs (1961) also defines the notion of neighborhood as a residential area of modest dimensions where social links are easily formed. For her, neighbors are people united not necessarily by common origins or common purposes (although it is recognized that social ties are more easily formed among households of a similar socioeconomic class) but by the proximity of their dwelling in space.

Well-defined housing neighborhoods are at the base of strong communities in traditional Chi nese cities. In Beijing, the physical organization of neighborhoods, with the narrow hutongs shared by a few households, contributes to the development among the residents of a sense of identity with their homes and surroundings (Bhatt et al., 1993-I). With reduced mobility and high residential stability, people of the same neighborhood have developed close relationships and a strong sense of solidarity. A Chinese proverb states that "a relative far away cannot compare to a neighbor nearby" (Zhou, in Stave, 1988; 256).

b) Brief History of Regeneration in China

Urban renewal is not a new phenomenon in China. Before 1980, old cities and old urban districts were renewed under the principles of full utilization and gradual transformation (Zhou Ganzhi, 1988). In Beijing, since as far back as the early 1950s, inner-city districts have been transformed to make way for wider roads and new projects with commercial, industrial and residential land uses (Yu Yi, 1989) (Hu Baozhe, 1990). The first example of neighborhood regeneration in the capital appeared in the 1960s when about 1.35 million square meters of new housing were built on sites previously occupied by traditional houses (He, 1993). In 1974, the municipal government invested 100 million yuan to redevelop three areas of the city. One hundred thousand square meters of old housing were torn down and replaced by 400,000 square meters of new apartments (He, 1993). Since 1980, most of the old urban districts and ancient city blocks have undergone some changes through urban renewal or neighborhood regeneration (Zhou Ganzhi, 1988).

It was not until the late 1980s, however, that local governments introduced policies to regulate the process of renewal in the old city of Beijing. In 1987, the Beijing municipal government ordered the development of four experimental projects to be implemented on the sites with the worst living standards within the four inner-city districts (He, 1993). Three of those four projects were imple mented and completed by 1990 (He, 1993). They are illustrated in figure 3.11.

c) The Old and Dilapidated Housing Renewal Program

In April 1990, the People's Municipal Government of Beijing commissioned the Beijing City Planning Institute to draw up a master plan for the four central city districts, in order to accelerate their renewal (Lu, 1993-I). What is known as the Old and Dilapidated Housing Renewal Program was then initiated. As many as thirty-seven regeneration projects were started in the old city districts through this program in 1990 (He, 1993). Only eight of them have so far been completed and inhabited.

Figure 3.11: The Old and Dilapidated Housing Renewal Program.

The renewal program was to be implemented in the old city of Beijing in four phases, starting with the sites in the worst condition and proceeding incrementally from the edge of the old city to wards its core (Lu, 1993-I). Neighborhoods to be regenerated were classified into five categories ac cording to their location and to the emergency of their situation. The municipal government of Beijing has declared that by the year 2000, all new renewal projects should be given approval (Lu, 1993-I).

According to Lu Junhua (1993-I), three major forces have motivated the implementation of the Old and Dilapidated Housing Renewal Program . First, the Central Committee of the Communist Par ty's will to resolve most of the housing shortage before the end of this century has been a major force driving the implementation of the program. Second, the recent boom in real estate has attracted investment to the renewal of the old city center which helped trigger the implementation of the renewal program. Finally, the residents' aspiration for better housing conditions has also helped accelerate the renewal of the old city. Residents generally approve the renewal program and are willing to cooperate with the government's efforts to replace their old housing (Lu, 1993-I).

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3.3. The regeneration process

a) Main Actors and Their Roles

The main actors involved in the process of neighborhood regeneration in Beijing are the diverse levels of local government, their various construction and development companies, and the ac tual residents of the neighborhoods to be redeveloped (He, 1993).

The district governments are usually the main coordinators for carrying out regeneration projects: they determine the location and size of renewal parcels, choose the type of development and project design, and take responsibility for management after construction (Lu, 1993-II). Project are generally designed by architectural institutes which are under the control of one level of the local government or another. The development agencies, or developers, are companies attached to the city or district Hous ing Management Bureau (He, 1993). They are evolving into profit-making, self-supporting businesses, although they continue to operate within the government's imprimatur (Lu, 1993). The original resi dents are often left out of the process, despite the fact that 40% of Beijing's residents will be affected by housing regeneration. Their role is limited to the acceptance or refusal of relocation to another site (Yang, 1990).

In June 1992, Beijing's municipal regulations began to permit the lease of land to developers who have rapidly taken the leading role in the regeneration process. Developers are now responsible for the construction of housing and infrastructure on the site and for the provision of housing for the original population on or off the site.

b) Financing

The comprehensive cost of regeneration is very high in Beijing. Besides the cost of the project itself, costs include many other items: the off-site infrastructure, public services (kindergarten, neighborhood committee office, shops, etc.), demolition and removal of the old structures on the site, new housing for the relocation of the original population, moving expenses, and demolition compen sations8 (He, 1993). Since 1992, the municipal government has played a smaller part in the financing of regeneration projects. Developers are now required to cover all project costs and receive no subsi dies besides land, which is allocated for free.

With the commercialization of housing, one way for developers to recuperate their investment is by selling the new units built on the new housing market. Potential buyers are generally large na tional work units, wealthy private entrepreneurs, and overseas Chinese. There is therefore an incentive for developers to profit from differential land values and to relocate a majority of the original residents in housing units purchased at advantageous price in the outskirts, while selling the units built on the site at market price9. They are also inclined to appropriate as much land as possible to amortize the cost of regeneration. Another way of financing projects is through the sale of commercial and retail spaces on the site.

c) Relocation

Original residents are generally relocated to walk-up or high-rise apartment buildings in large-scale mass housing projects located on the periphery of the city. Relocation sites are generally incon veniently located, badly serviced, and suffer from poor security and high crime rates. Because of the registration system, relocation remains a complex administrative process. The transfer of the hukoucan take several months, causing major inconveniences to both relocated people and new residents on the site.

Although most people look forward to the regeneration of their neighborhoods, they are generally opposed to relocation, over which they have a limited control, as to where and in what conditions. Most people prefer to remain in their original neighborhoods because of its prime location near the city center. One of the initial goals of the renewal program was to retain a minimum of 30% of the original site population on the site after regeneration (He, 1990). Yet, because of the absence of strong enforce ment of the regulation regarding the requirements for minimum number of residents to return to the site after its regeneration, the current system has allowed developers to benefit from every resident not returned to the site. It has also made it possible for the developers to create artificial constraints to convince residents to accept relocation. The need to find temporary housing 10 and the payment of the rent deposit11 have often discouraged people from staying. The prospect of larger units, lower rents, facilitated moving, or compensation bonuses proposed by the developer often convince residents to leave their old neighborhood and accept relocation.

The size of the units allocated to each of the original households is based on the size of their original living space. However, the calculations do not account for the many additions that have been built throughout the years to solve problems of space shortage 12. In cases where families are found to live in unbearably crowded houses, the right to have more living space has to be purchased from the local government for about one thousand yuan per room. The household's work unit generally covers this cost, but the family has to pay rent monthly for the extra space.

This overview of the phenomenon of neighborhood regeneration and of the diverse issues involved in the process provides an appropriate background to critically review the diverse neighborhood regeneration projects that are presented as case studies in the next chapter.

1 Feng Shui, which literally translates as wind and water, is the ancient Chinese form of geomancy. It basically consists of theories and practices concerning the integration of built structures in the landscape, based on the analysis of its physical components such as the earth, the winds, the sun, the mountains, the water, the relief, the vegetation and the other built forms. It had been essential in the implementation of any structure since Chinese antiquity. However, since the Revo lution, this practice has been more or less forgotten in mainland China, and now it is more commonly used in Hong Kong (Clément et al., 1987).

2 A true representation of the traditional Chinese space can be based on the principle of the Chinese boxes, where units sharing a similar structure are contained one within another. This image is equally reflected in the principles of the Chinese feudal society and corresponds to the balanced relationships between the individual and the family, the family and the state, the human order and the cosmic order (Zhu Zixuan, 1983). Beijing is often described as a "series of enclosed, self-sufficient representations of the world", the ultimate expression of the ideal traditional Chinese city (Jonathan, 1983).

3 Beijing is famous for its hutongs which are narrow lanes flanked on both sides by the blind walls of the traditional houses and bordered by trees. At one time most of them had a gate ( pailou) at each end. Hutong are very active places in the neighborhood: they are used as an informal gathering place for people living in the neighborhood and as a children's playground. They can also accommodate the occasional spillover of domestic functions and serve as a kind of communal room where local craftsmen can earn extra income by selling their products or conducting small businesses from their homes (Mann, 1984) (Bhatt et al. 1992). There are more than 3 000 hutongs in the old city of Beijing, varying in length from 20 to 500 meters and from 60 cm to 6 meters in width (He, 1990).

4 In China, it is not easy to evaluate populations, even in a well-defined area. They are often calculated in terms of households, taking 3.5 people per household as a national average (Jian Chuan, 1986). The figures given here do not take the floating populationinto account. Before 1979, individuals were not allowed to move freely from one city to another because of the registration system,hukou, introduced in the 1960s to control rural-urban migration (Hoa, 1981). Today, this system officially remains in place but the economic development in urban areas has forced the authorities to allow more freedom of migration. This has lead to the emergence of what is called floating population, referring to people who are living out of their official place of residence (Rocca, 1993). According to official figures, today the actual floating population in urban areas accounts for 70 to 80 million people, of whom 2 million are in the capital.

5 The average gross population density is around 300 people per hectare, reaching as high as 1000 people per hectare in some of the most crowded residential areas (Zhu Zixuan, 1989).

6 Confucianism, never a religion in any accepted sense, is primarily concerned with social order. It is based on traditional Chinese thought combined with an ideally rigid and hierarchical order. It regards highly education, individual achievement and mobility within the rigid structure (China: A Country Study, 1988).

7 For example, the living space within the same house grew from 2 440.5 square meters in the early days of the republic to 3 786.5 square meters (fifty-five percent increase) by 1987 (Wu Liang Yong, 1990).

8 Private home-owners are usually compensated for the demolition of their old house by the developer. This compen sation generally ranges between 1000 and 1500 Yuan per room, regardless of the building quality. Some developers might offer the residents another house of similar condition in some other part of the city instead of financial compensation. In Beijing, 11% of houses are privately owned, and since most of them are concentrated in the old neighborhoods, the proportion in these areas varies from 25% to 70% (Fang He, 1989).

9 In general, local governments intend that 30% of housing built should be reserved for sale or rent at minimum profit (fixed at 8% of development costs) while the remaining 70% can be sold at market rate (Lu, 1993 II). Units in the outskirts are bought for as much as three times cheaper than those in the city center which are sold at market price.

10 Residents wishing to be rehoused on the site after its regeneration are required to find temporary housing with friends or relatives for the duration of the project construction, which can last between one and three years. The developer usually gives a monthly compensation of ten yuan per person for the whole period of temporary living. Since most people only have access to bicycle carts for moving, the task of moving all of their belongings twice in a relatively short period of time can be overwhelming. Many prefer moving directly to a new site, for which the developer often supplies moving trucks free of charge. The developer may occasionally arrange for housing facilities in another part of the city or provide temporary shelters next to the construction site.

11 When residents are rehoused as tenants in new apartments on the original site, they are required to pay a rent deposit to the developer prior to occupying the new unit. The deposit of about 40 ¥/m 2 is calculated based on the total built area of their apartment, including balconies (He, 1993). Residents are then required to pay a monthly rent at a highly subsidized rate. After three years, the deposit is generally reimbursed and the rent is raised to the new non-subsidized rate. The interest on the deposit, together with the rent, cover maintenance and management costs. If the residents cannot afford to pay the deposit, they may have to pay the normal rent right away.

12 In the inner city of Beijing, such informal additions were found to represent as much as 25 to 30% of all built -up area (Wu, 1991).

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