Chapter 1: Introduction

Since adopting economic reform and open door policy in 1978, China has been undergoing dramatic changes in all aspects of life, be it social, political, economic, or cultural. In the context of the shift from planned to market economy, urban housing in China is now at a crossroads, both in policy and practice.

Policy-wise, disengaging the housing burden formerly shouldered by the state, seems to be the direction that housing reforms are taking. However, the low wage policy limits the individual families' ability to share this burden. Further, the powerful state owned institutions and enterprises discourage the contribution from small and lower income sectors. While in practice, the newly established housing market has been bringing a boom to real estate development. Demands for variety broke the previously monotonous appearance of mass housing. Many new housing typologies became available, such as the single family detached house, semi-detached house and row house. However, access to the newly reformed commercial market in China is inevitably limited to the minority who can afford the costs of the high standard amenities and the profits pursued by developers, as in many other Third World countries (Turner, 1967, p.171). Nonetheless, the possibility of choices has made people rethink housing, bearing in mind that for nearly 40 years, the state-built and distributed mass housing had been the norm. Both in policy and practice, there are many new paths which need to be explored.

In Beijing, the capital, this issue is more challenging because, on the one hand, being the second most populated city in China, housing its 12 million people is an arduous task, and on the other hand, being the political and cultural center of China, the city is also the most impressive ancient capital with a rich heritage of traditional culture. In new housing developments, respecting and protecting the old city image should also be an integral concern.

Since Beijing was chosen to be the capital of the PRC in 1949, the conflict between preservation and development has been there all along. The political aspiration to build a brand new republic before its people and the world meant continued modernization of the ancient city. The radical ideology to cut ties with tradition also casts a hazardous shadow on historical legacy. However, thanks to the economic limitation and some far-seeing scholars, the city, to a great extent, is still shining with ancient charm 1.

Today, under the powerful economic force, the old city is facing its toughest challenge. Just imagine what 10 million m2 urban construction per annum would do to a city. The main characteristic of the old city's profile - the smooth horizontally - is broken as high-rises infiltrate into the central area of the old city. Some important ancient relics have lost their glory in the shadow of over-sized new buildings beside them. Some traditional neighborhoods have vanished forever. To preserve the traditional spatial environment as a whole is a task to be done now or never. Meanwhile, the need for renovation in the old city is also very urgent: A large number of dilapidated houses are in dire need of repair and remodeling; The infrastructure of the old city is inadequate to meet the needs of modern requirement of working and living; more and more traffics need to be accommodated; indeed, the conflict between preservation and development is growing worse because these factors all interrelate and change rapidly.

In the 1990s' Master Plan of Beijing, preservation of the historical and cultural city as a whole, and especially the Old City, is an important objective for the first time (Ke, 1993). This shows preservation of the historical city is now a serious concern of the municipal government. In planning and develop ment, "every effort must be made to build a new city in integration with the long historic-cultural tradition and the characteristics of a modern metropolis." (Beijing - Preservation and Modernization of Historic City , 1990, p.2).

To preserve the old city as a whole, is not only to protect the palaces, the important relics or even only the physical environment, the socio-cultural aspect should also be an integral consideration. Because "man may build to control his environment, but it is as much the inner, social, and religious environment as the physical one that he is controlling - the ideal environment, in cultural terms ." (Rapoport, 1969, p.60). In reverse, the built environment also shapes people living within. In a sense, urban renewal concerns the socio-cultural matters of society.

Housing, under these complicated circumstances, seems to be the key link. Because on the one hand, according to Rossi, housing and monuments are the two main permanent artifacts in a city (Rossi, 1984, p.65). As a matter of fact in Beijing, the traditional courtyard housing is the main constituent of the cityscape in the old city, and the newly built housing also makes up the bulk of the new construc tions. On the other hand, since housing is a "cultural phenomenon" (Rapoport, 1969, p.46), with more and more people moving into either high-rise or medium-rise apartments from the one story courtyard houses, the change in the built environment has physical as well as psychological impacts on their life style, which is also an integral part of the tradition. If housing is not included in the historical preserva tion, then preservation of the city as a whole is only empty words.

The mass housing projects were generally located outside the Old City until 1990. From that year on, the municipal government undertook large scale urban renewal in the old city - the most sensitive spot caught between preservation and development. Initially, there was a strong effort to exercise prudence; four pilot projects were carefully selected. Since then, large scale reconstruction projects have been conducted in the inner city, as the mayor of Beijing once addressed on city development in June 1990: "...the reconstruction and rehabilitation of dilapidated houses in the inner city will become the municipal government's major concern in the coming years" (Chen in Lu Xiaoxiang, 1991, I). Up till 1993, 37 projects as the first phase of the renewal program had been completed or were under construction. Although some projects among them were really creative and successful, especially the three pilot projects (among which, Ju-er hutong won the Habitat Gold Medal in 1993), most of the following projects did not show the same respect to their specific environment. (Detailed discussion will be held in Chapter Four).

If some of the projects are seen as failures, that does not mean they resulted only from poor planning and design, as government agencies and many professionals and residents often think. The whole state housing system at large, as well as political intentions, economic limitations, professional commit ment, all played important roles in shaping the final result. If new integrated approaches are not adopted in the near future, and the current careless mass reconstruction in the inner city continues, the image of the old capital, which evolved over a period of more than six hundred years, will be ruined for ever.

In order to formulate new strategies, one must have a thorough understanding of the current situations. This thesis thus intends to do an in-depth study on the redevelopment process in the Old City of Beijing, from initiation to design, construction and distribution. The process will be examined from the perspectives of political intention, economic limitation, professional dedication as well as concerns of the powers-that-be at different levels. Hopefully, it will become apparent how conflicting interests of the different players arise, where the contradictions lie, and which sectors have played dominant roles in shaping the outcomes.

Case studies come from the projects within the Old and Dilapidated Housing Renewal Program, an urban renewal program initiated by the municipal government in 1990. Those projects were supposedly probes for exploring new strategies in housing design and new approaches for housing reform 2. However, they also conveyed the conflict between preservation and development. Samples of the traditional neighborhoods, chosen both from the former Tartar city and Chinese city 3, will also be used to show the present condition of these traditional living quarters. Which, indeed, is the focus of the debate on housing renewal methodology: preservation oriented selective rebuilding or redevelopment oriented drastic reconstruction.

From an analysis of the housing process and the interests of different sectors involved, this study tries to identify the contradictions pertaining to the renewal program and present detailed discussion on these issues. Discussion will focus on the objectives of the program, which will be related to the city's Master Plan, relocation of the original residents, city image preservation as well as the roles of municipal and district government in the renewal process. These discussions will clarify the rather complex process. The study can serve as a reference by related government agencies in revising guidelines or objectives of the renewal program. Further, it can provide the practicing planners and architects a base, on the problems they are confronting with, to explore new appropriate solutions in urban renewal.

1. Beijing as a city has a history of more than 3,000 years and had functioned as capital since Jing dynasty (Wu, 1994). The present layout of the ancient city was formed in 1368 AD during the Ming dynasty, through the modification of the following regimes, the basic pattern was still kept. The term 'old city' used in this thesis, refers to the walled city errected in Ming dynasty, and the six hundred years history is also referred to the history of this area.

2. This is shown from the principle for this program: "integration with the development of new districts; integration with the reform of housing system; integration with real estate management and integration with city historical preservation." (Chen Xitong, the mayor' speech, 1990). Later, there came the fifth integration, with improvment of urban infrastructure. This principle is often refered as Four Integration or Five Integration. This will be discussed further in Chapter Three.

3. The Inner and Outer City consecutively during the Qing Dynasty, when China was under the control of Tartar people. Both of them are all currently within the Old City of Beijing. The term Old City used thereafter is referred to this area.

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