Chapter 6: New Directions for the Future

The identification of the main issues involved in neighborhood regeneration in Beijing has clarified the complexity of the relationships among the different actors involved, along with the inter ests they serve, and allows one to assess the current renewal program. The last chapter concludes the thesis by providing a short review of the evolution of the implementation of the renewal program and proposes suggestions for future readjustments to the program.

6.1. Summary

Since the first studies for the development of a renewal program for the inner city of Beijing in the late 1980s, great changes have occurred in the way regeneration has been implemented. Some roles have been modified and priorities have been redefined.

The initial goals of the program were to solve the housing shortage, improve housing condi tions, modernize the infrastructure, and reduce the population density in the city center. The govern ment's priority was to achieve this objective with minimal public investment. To do so, it reduced subsidies for regeneration projects and eventually decided to transfer responsibilities to developers. As a result, the renewal program has moved gradually from being a public housing program to becoming a partnership between the public and private sectors, similar in some ways those in Hong Kong and Singapore. In this partnership, the government was to regulate the process but let private funds from developers implement regeneration. However, to attract private sector investment, the government had to create conditions that would facilitate intervention. In the absence of the leadership of a strong housing authority, regulations were loosened and developers have gained increasing powers. The government has now limited its role to policy formulation, land allocation, and housing distribution and management. Consequently, certain aspects of regeneration have been sacrificed to the interest of profit.

The result has been a move from a small-scale, integrated, and sustainable form of regenera tion, found in the early pilot projects, to a larger-scale redevelopment approach involving massive relocation. As the main interest of the developer is for maximum profit, projects now concentrate on the financial aspects of regeneration and emphasis is placed upon strategic location, larger estates, and prestige image to increase project profitability. Contented by the developers' current approach which satisfies its main interests, the government favors the maintenance of the st atus quo. Consequently, authorities have adopted a laissez faire attitude toward regeneration, and turn a blind eye to the result ing social and environmental impacts.

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6.2. Toward an integrated renewal

The present study reveals that the current approach to neighborhood regeneration in Beijing is not sustainable1in many aspects. The process rests on a precarious financing system which can only be sustained as long as investments can be attracted. When speculation is no longer possible, developers will go invest elsewhere and regeneration will be halted. In addition, the lack of well-defined policies or of rigor in their enforcement, as well as the absence of commitment to social and environmental issues may carry important costs in the future.

A gradual restructuring of the current renewal program at all levels appears necessary. The experience of other countries has demonstrated that a realistic renewal program must view neighborhood regeneration as a comprehensive and integrated process. But such transformation of Beijing's current renewal program is no easy task. It would not only require the transformation of the housing design and production systems, but also the redefinition of overall policies, readjustment of the management system, and the introduction of new financing means. New directions can be explored in the design of a more balanced approach to neighborhood regeneration. Some suggestions can be made concerning the social, environmental, design, economic, and policy aspects of such an approach.

For regeneration to be implemented in a more integrated way, a great concern for social issues and for the protection of the existing communities must be developed. Past experience worldwide has revealed that citizen participation at all levels of the regeneration process can be an important factor in the success of renewal programs (Colborn, 1963). A greater involvement of the users, at the design, building, financing or management levels, could thus be part of a new regeneration program.

It is recognized that user participation results in more adapted housing design and helps pro mote an interest in home-ownership. In the Chinese context, this could contribute to the realization of the housing reforms, by encouraging a greater involvement of private individuals in the process. In creased home-ownership could lead to the prolongation of the lifetime of the housing stock through better maintenance. However, the introduction of such an approach would require important political considerations by the regime, modifications in the existing urban housing system, and a high degree of social responsibility, which may prove difficult in the current Chinese context.

Great consideration for the protection of the natural, historical and physical aspects of the neighborhood and the region would also be necessary for the development of a sensitive approach to neighborhood regeneration. Regeneration should be implemented with respect for the underlying prin ciples that generated the city and for the remaining traces of the past. A mastery of the urban planning and design legacy of China and a clear set of policies concerned with the visual form of the city are essential for the development of a renewal program which respects the identity of the city. This can only spring from a deep understanding of the environment and would necessitate changes in the attitude of professionals and authorities.

A form of contemporary architecture which integrates traditional styles with the new requirements of a modern society could also be developed. The adaptation of tradition to modern city living could help create an environment that is technically functional and perceptually coherent. New hous ing prototypes could emerge from an in-depth analysis of the attributes of traditional housing and a better understanding of the current problems in housing design. Such prototypes should fit in with the scale, texture and color of the traditional environment and justify the existing urban patterns while displaying the clarity and simplicity of modern functions and technological requirements. New proto types should allow for variety and flexibility and be both replicable and affordable.

An improved housing finance system based on diversified funding sources could also be devel oped. By integrating different forms of cross-subsidies, introducing a greater participation of the users in project financing, and providing new financial structures such as housing cooperatives, loans, and a mortgage system, the dependency on developers could be reduced. Housing cooperatives constitute a form of social organization that could play an important role in solving the housing problem in China by promoting the financial involvement of users in housing provision. To be viable, they would require the introduction of preferential policies such as tax exemptions and the creation of savings and credit associations. Yet, this may prove difficult in the current Chinese context, in the absence of a strong economic system and of stable macroeconomic policies.

To coordinate the whole process, a more comprehensive developmental approach to urban renewal must be developed. The current renewal program needs to be readjusted and policies and regulations adapted to new realities. Objectives have to be redefined, roles redistributed, new regula tions enforced, and post-evaluation studies carried out. The most important element of such a new program would be the creation of an independent housing authority, similar to those found in Hong Kong and Singapore. Such an institution could design policies, manage housing provision, and enforce regulations without being in conflict with the diverse players in the process.

Unfortunately, some of the proposed transformations of the current renewal program cannot realistically be introduced in the Chinese context as of today, especially in the present ideological environment. Most transformations would require a loosening of the centralized control of the state, the allocation of a greater level of autonomy to the people, and a high degree of social responsibility. The socialist system, and before that Confucianism, have, for decades, taken responsibility out of the hands of individuals. Collective organizations and enterprises were responsible for the provision of work, housing, and food, for settling disputes, and for decision-making at all levels. By controlling public expression, they have also prevented people from stating their opinion and asserting their right to choose. Although the political system is slowly evolving, China is still dominated by its Confucian heritage and remains a communist state which is based on a centralized and authoritarian control of power systematically opposed to change and to individual initiative (Hornik, 1994). The proposed integrated approach cannot be implemented without changes in the deep-rooted attitudes of the population and the state, which, as history has often proven, may not be for tomorrow. Still, some of the proposed modifications of the renewal program could be adapted to the current situation and be intro duced as the system gradually evolves, or simply serve as a guide for the formulation of future renewal policies.

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6.3. Conclusions

Today, two options are available to the Chinese government for the regeneration of the old city of Beijing: either to maintain the status quo and ignore the negative impacts of the current regeneration process, or to take action and look for innovative ways of transforming the city. Maintaining the status quo could have important consequences for the urban environment and for the generations to come. One can easily imagine what Beijing could become in the next few years: courtyard houses could be replaced by uniform six-story buildings, while the Forbidden City and the few temple areas would remain as the last low-rise enclave in the old city and as mere tourist attractions. Increased building densities and the segregation of land uses would also greatly modify the aspect of the city, which would appear as a continuous and essentially residential fabric occasionally disrupted by commercial or institutional areas. The gentrification of the inner city would equally affect the character of the city and would bear heavy social costs. The traditional city of Beijing would slowly disappear and with it, the values and treasures of a whole culture.

Although experts from around the world are warning the Chinese about the shortcomings of the current renewal program, authorities argue that the Chinese situation is unique and cannot be com pared with the experience of other countries. As the old Chinese saying goes: "Experience is a lantern which only sheds light on who holds it." Today, the fate of the old city of Beijing is in the hands of the Chinese authorities, who must decide between two options or, to use Marco Polo's words in his last recital to the great Khan in Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities (1979; 126), between two infernos:

"The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live everyday, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what , in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space."

1 The word "sustainability", generally defined as "the ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs", can be used to describe a form of development which combines and resolves the demands of economic growth, social equity and ecosystem viability while minimizing the harmful impacts of human activities on the environment (Nozick, 1992).

2 Housing cooperatives are involved in design, construction, distribution, renovation and exchange, although their main purpose is to organize residents to raise funds and encourage savings for home-buying. The first housing cooperative created in China was in Shanghai in July 1986. Today, over one hundred housing cooperatives can be found in more than thirty Chinese cities. Many different types of housing cooperatives exist in China: housing cooperatives for employees and workers organized by government departments, work units and industries; joint housing cooperatives organized by trade unions and housing management departments with interested enterprises and institutes; and community housing coopera tives organized by families and whole communities confronted with housing difficulties (Cui Wei, 1991).

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