Chapter 5: Two Fundamental Issues

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Urban renewal is a multi-faceted and complex process which involves various interest groups. It is not merely a financial and physical proposition, since it relates to political, economic, technical and socio-cultural matters (Couch, 1990), as shown in fig. 5.1. In this complicated interrelated scheme, city image preservation and original residents re-accommodation are two key issues in the case of Beijing. They tightly connect with all these aspects and therefore with all the sectors involved.

Urban renewal affects the urban environment at many levels, both the ecological and the man-made environment. In recent years, the integration of global economy is transforming the cities around the world towards an uniform 'global model' (Noaick, 1992). The leading design firms provide the similar models for commercial office towers in Beijing, Shanghai as well as in New York or Tokyo. This global image is threatening local identity and vernacular authenticity, two important components in maintaining the vitality of traditional local culture, which are becoming more and more appreciated by people threatened by globalized mass culture. Since old buildings, monuments, traditional neighboroods as well as old circulation patterns all contribute to form the city's unique characteristics (Rossi, 1984, pp.86-87), they all must be paid special attention in the process of renewal.

Urban renewal touches upon not only the physical form of the urban environment, it also has psychological and emotional impacts on its people. Urban renewal affects people in the way they perceive their environments and the way they socialize. Forced displacement from familiar locations translates into drastic changes in lifestyle and requires long-term readjustment, which can cause serious psychological trauma, especially for the most vulnerable portion of population, e.g. senior citizens and young children (Holcomb and Beauregard, 1981, p.63). The loss of contact with a familiar environment may occur both when residents are relocated to new settlement, and when familiar environments are radically altered (Holcomb and Beauregard, 1981, p.46). Therefore, integration with the Old City fabric is an important prerequisite for a sensitive renewal approach.

The two issues, the Old City image preservation and original residents re-accommodation, are indeed interconnected. To preserve the city image, in its very essence, is to preserve the old community - its inhabitants and their living environments developed through the years, which is the living component of the local folk culture.

5.1 City Image Preservation

The debate on Old City preservation can be traced back to the early fifties when the new regime chose Beijing as the capital. Professor Liang Sicheng had proposed to build a new city in the present north-west suburb away from the historic center (Wu, 1994). This may have been the best way to keep the Old City as it was, but the drawback of this approach is that the Old City might be fossilized and lose its economic vitality (McQuillan, 1985, p.25). In the following 40 years, though some architects and other scholars constantly advocated city preservation, the moat was filled, and the city wall and most of the city gates, which were the symbols of a city in Chinese tradition, were also demolished, not to mention numerous other historical relics.

The new construction boom in recent years brings the contradiction between preservation and development to the forefront again. The mass construction in recent years had threatened the image of the ancient capital. With time passing, the municipality as well as more and more citizens had realized the value of the Old City and the urgency to protect it. Although the protection of historical and cultural heritage was now general consensus, what exactly should be preserved and how it could be preserved were still being debated. In fact, the neighborhoods of traditional courtyard houses was the frontier between preservation and development.

5.1.1 A Few Numbers

Beijing had altogether 17 million m2 of traditional buildings in 1949. During the following decades up to 1990, about 120 million m2 of new houses were built, which were about seven times the built area in 1949 (Zhao, 1990). However, despite all the expansion and growth, the inner city remained the center of the municipality.

22 million m2 of new buildings were built within the Old City alone. While more than 6 million m2 of traditional buildings were demolished, leaving buildings constructed before 1949 covering less than one third of the total built floor area in the Old City (Dong Guangqi, 1994). During the last decade, as a result of the progress of building technology and the scarcity of urban land, more than 200 high-rises had been put up in the inner city (Ke1, 1991, I), severely imperiling its profile.

According to city Master Plan, of the remaining 10 million m2 traditional buildings, nearly 0.8 million were listed as important historical sites. In addition, 1 million m2 of courtyard houses in good condition were to be preserved. 4 millions m2 were designated for demolishing to make room for widening streets and improving urban infrastructure. Among the 4.2 million m2 old courtyard houses left, 2 millions were listed as Class IV or V, which meant dilapidated 'dangerous houses' (Zhao, 1990).

The renewal program targeted the area where 8.2 million m2 old courtyard houses were located. Although the houses needing to be redeveloped were those dangerously dilapidated houses which the local housing management bureau had already identified, areas where the houses in good condition stood side by side with those in bad, also needed improvement in basic infrastructure. In practice, this so-called housing renewal was mostly complete demolition and redevelopment - exactly the same as large scale development in suburban green fields. Many experts were against this radical approach and they advocated instead an incremental, step-by-step renovation and upgrading. Indeed, these different approaches stem from different attitudes towards traditional courtyard neighborhoods.

5.1.2 Two Opinions: Rehabilitation or Demolition

Many architects, planners, and scholars in other disciplines had advocated that preserving the traditional spatial environment as a whole was the only way to protect the ancient capital. By having the courtyard houses as a simple and humble background, the grandeur of the imperial palaces and other important historical buildings was highlighted. The traditional courtyard houses, as a prototype housing form, were themselves an important historical heritage of vernacular architecture and cultural legacy.

Beyond the physical concerns, there were also related social issues. Preserving the old neighborhoods also meant conserving the existing demography and environment, which had taken a long time to shape. Yu stressed that when old neighborhoods were demolished, people were removed from their familiar environment, which could cause real psychological damage (Yu, 1989). She advocated preserving the courtyard houses, even the 'dangerous houses' were better upgraded or rebuilt in a compatible manner.

The negative opinion towards old courtyard houses came from those who felt that courtyard housing belonged to the 'horse cart' era, and was no longer suitable as an urban housing typology (Han, 1990). This opinion was based on the poor present conditions of the traditional living quarters. Indeed, the slum-looking neighborhoods was in discord with the image of a modern metropolis and tarnished the splendor of the ancient capital. They called for total demolition and reconstruction, except for a few in very good condition or listed for protection. This approach would have simplified some unavoidable problems if the old residential quarters were to be preserved, such as where and how to relocate the spill-over? How to modify the preserved courtyard houses as self-contained dwelling units needed by nuclear families? And how to update the urban infrastructure in the inner city? Protagonists of this argument insisted that upgrading was not feasible simply because neither the municipal government nor the residents had the means. Also because they felt the courtyard type could not be modified to suit modern life for all the people living in them today.

These problems were very difficult but not impossible to resolve. The demolition and reconstruction approach oversimplified the task. Some breakthroughs in methodology were needed in order to preserve the old living quarters, as Prof. Wu Liangyong stressed: " The appropriate method is to sum up the past experiences and explore new solutions beyond the existing models. " (Wu, 1991).

The latest city Master Plan in the early 1990s, for the first time featured preservation as a special topic, a large step forward from the 1980's version. This time preservation not only concerned some important historical sites, but also the city layout, the street pattern and many other features contributing to the uniqueness of the city. However, traditional neighborhoods as the most quantitative component of the city's built environment, were still not being paid sufficient attention. Radical demolition-redevelopment still persisted in current renewal projects. The real problem here was that the government lacked a vision towards this end, therefore was not capable of devising specific regulations to deal with this issue.

5.1.3 Characteristics of the City

One of the challenges in the preservation of the city image was to discover and identify its unique and important features. Only when the inherent characteristics of the existing urban environment were precisely underscored, could it be possible to keep the continuity of these features in the new development and redevelopment. Ten points were raised in the Master Plan of 1990s as important considerations for the purpose of historical preservation (Dong Guangqi, 1994).

1). To preserve and develop the city's central axis

The eight km. north-south Royal Axis of old Beijing, an aesthetic climax in the art of city planning and in the history of city development worldwide, is the symbolic backbone of Old Beijing.

2). To mark the layout of walled city of Ming and Qing Dynasty

This was actually a remedial measure after demolishing the city wall and filling up the moat. Fortunately, the Second Ring Road was along the former location of the city wall and acted as a clear edge to delineate the boundary of the Old City. A rather wide greenery ring was intended to enhance this effect. Also, some symbolic buildings were to be erected to evoke the memory of the former gates in spatial composition.

3). To preserve the waterways of rivers and lakes that are closely related to the city's historical evolution

The Huabei plain, in which Beijing is located, has suffered from water shortage since ancient times. A well engineered waterway system has guaranteed the survival of this ancient city, and at the same time, the solemn and rigid series of Palaces are softened by the natural, meandering waterway system of six hais (hai means lake). This juxtaposition reflected the Chinese cosmological concept, yin and yang.

4). To maintain the chessboard framework of roads and the pattern of streets and lanes

The circulation network of Beijing was designed during the Yuan Dynasty and evolved through the following centuries. The grid of primary streets bounded the residential super blocks, while the narrow lanes - the hutongs, provided access to each individual courtyard house. The busy shopping areas and the tranquil residential quarters were well defined and yet conveniently linked. This feature needed special attention in the renewal projects. If the large-scale, suburban green field development model repeated, the traditional circulation system, especially the symbiotic relationship between hutong and courtyard houses, would be destroyed.

5). To pay attention to the traditional characteristic colors of the city

Traditionally, color was coded in hierarchical order. The color of a building showed its owner's social status. The basic colors of the city, which dominated the residential housing for commoners, were gray masonry walls and light gray roof tiles under the canopy of green trees. Imperial Palaces and Temples stood out gleaming in their vermilion walls and glazed yellow roofs in contrast to this muted back ground.

6). To govern building heights in accordance with the low, horizontal and wide open spatial pattern of the city

The Imperial Palace used to be the highest building complex within the Old City, symbolizing the center of power. High and bulky city walls defined the boundaries outlining the neighborhoods of one story courtyard houses. The mountains to the north-west of the city was also part of the poetic profile of the city. To preserve this spatial organization, the height limit was respectively set in accordance with the distance from the center, from 6-meters, to 9-, 12- and 18-meters. Along the Second Ring Road, this limit was loosened to 30- to 45-meters, and in the places where the city gates used to stand, 60-meters was also permitted.

7). To preserve the important view corridors

View corridors linking the important buildings, scenes and monuments were important features in traditional Chinese spatial composition and appreciation. Preservation of these traditional view corridors was mainly through building height control along the view lines.

8). To preserve important architectural focal points

Landmark buildings were important components of cityscapes, they were commonly used by Beijingers to identify streets and locations. It was important to preserve these buildings in keeping the character istics of the streetscape.

9). To open up more city squares

Public squares were not an integral part of the design concepts of Chinese traditional urban planning, but they were naturally formed in the intersections of commercial streets and the transportation hubs around the Old City gates. In redeveloping of the public and commercial complexes along major arteries, more public squares were included for people to rest and enjoy recreational activities. At the same time, these squares would be well landscaped, offering much needed oases among the densely built urban surroundings.

10). To preserve old and valuable trees

As an ancient city, Beijing had more than 30,000 trees which were over 100 years old or have special significance. These trees were living components of the cityscape and a legacy of the city heritage. In renewal projects, preservation of the old trees was also an aspect needing special attention.

The image of a city evolves throughout the course of its history. It is a result of the combined effects of politics, economy, culture and ecological environment. The above ten points describe the features of Beijing in various perspectives. Among them, the fourth, fifth, sixth and tenth are closely related to the residential quarters. Indeed, these features are conveyed by traditional neighborhoods. For example: hutongs, as the basic constituent of the city's circulation framework, are symbiotic with courtyard houses; together they form the residential environment inside the super block. Ubiquitous traditional neighborhoods have formed the gray-toned background of the city; trees are scattered around the neighborhoods. To date, from a bird eye view, a canopy of green still covers the roofs of traditional neighborhoods. In the urban spatial composition, these traditional neighborhoods compose the low, horizontal profile. The residential districts, harmonious yet not lacking in fine-tuned variations, gives the city image a sense of unity.

In the latest Master Plan, traditional courtyard housing is not clearly identified as a feature to be protected. In fact, how to protect the city as a whole still lacks clear objectives and strong measures. The regulations executed now are not adequate in preserving the old city image, as discussed in the next section.

5.1.4 Policies and Regulations

As mentioned before, the objectives of the redevelopment program encompasses many aspects related to the city Master Plan such as protection of the image of the ancient capital, revision of land use, reduction of the population density in the Old City, improvement of urban infrastructure, etc.. In the following parts, the intentions and consequences of some policies and regulations that guide the pro gram will be discussed individually.

1) Height Control

Preservation of the special features of the Old City of Beijing, first of all, required respect for the traditional city layout and especially the spatial environment (Ke, 1991, I). The 200 high-rise buildings in the Old City were eye sores for the Municipal Planning Bureau, because they had permanently damaged the spatial composition of the Old City and the former Imperial Palaces (Ke, 1991, I). To prevent Beijing from being further swallowed up by a concrete forest, the Capital Planning and Construction Commission and the Municipal Planning Bureau issued a regulation in 1985 to strictly control building heights, so that the spatial pattern would not suffer further (Ke, 1991, I). In 1987, this regulation was readjusted; View corridors were taken into consideration and the limit of FAR for each district was added. In 1990, the municipal government announced the first group of 25 parcels as historical preservation districts, and in the following revision of the city Master Plan, the height control regulation was further modified (Dong Guangqi, 1994).

The idea of the modified height control was that different areas were to be dealt with differently, or that special attention should be paid to some key points. The principle of this regulation was that, in the words of Ke:

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"In the areas around the Forbidden City, the three lakes (Bei hai, Qian hai and Hou hai) and other important historical relics, the original looking vernacular buildings should be strictly preserved so that the building height is limited to under 6 meters. In the areas outside the wall of Imperial Palace, the height of buildings is limited to 9, 12, 18 meters. Along the Second Ring Road (where the city walls once stood), and in some special areas (Changan Avenue, for example), buildings between 30 to 45 meters in height may be allowed." (Ke, 1991, I) (fig. 5.2).

Lü observed that building height zones changed from 1985, when most of the Old City was zoned for new building as high as 45 meters, to 1987, when a strong reaction brought this height limit down to 12 meters for most of the old inner city (the former Tartar city), and again to the current compromise which allowed 18-meter buildings in large areas near the Second Ring Road but restricted building around the old imperial city to the traditional 6 meters (Lü Junhua, 1994, I).

Why was the height limit for most residential areas set at 18 meters? A very probable reason was that the most commonly used residential housing type, a 6-story walk-up slab which proved to be the most economically efficient (Liu Yirong, 1989), was about this height. From earthquake-proof and fire-proof points of view, this was also the optimal economic height (Wang Qi, 1989). But this housing type was definitely not compatible with the Old City fabric. The building mass, and the minimal space in between according to the sunlight regulation, overpowered the former hutong-courtyard housing neighborhoods. In addition, the height was above almost all trees in the city (Lü Junhua, 1994, I). If this height limit could be reduced to 12 meters, then the equivalent four-story high residential buildings could avoid all these disadvantages, and the housing types suitable for four-story building were more diversified.

What did this regulation do for traditional neighborhoods in effect? The 1 million m2 of courtyard houses in better shape were largely concentrated in three areas, Luoguxiang, Dongsi in Dongcheng district, and Xisi in Xicheng district (Jia and Liang, 1989). As for the other several million m2 of old houses, according to Ke, the dilapidated ones would be thoroughly demolished and replaced by two- to six-story high residential housing according to different height limits. With regard to the scattered good quality houses, they could be preserved and merged with the new environment (Ke, 1991, I).

In practice, as can be expected, almost all the developments reached the height limit they were permitted, and applications for waiver on height limit were not uncommon. In some projects, preserving the courtyard houses in good conditions was adhered. For example in one former proposal for the redevelopment of the Chaonei project, three courtyard houses were preserved and modified for use as kindergartens and a senior citizen's center. It was good that they were adaptive reused, but sadly they were barricaded by surrounding high-rises (fig. 5.3).

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It was quite clear that most old houses were destined for demolition except the 1 million m2 designated ones. Under these circumstances, the old urban fabric formed mainly by traditional hutong and courtyard housing neighborhoods, were subject to be totally altered and replaced by the walk-up communities of large-scale redevelopment. Surviving courtyard houses would become relics in this scene, something alien and out of place in the future urban tissue. In this sense, the policy concerned only the preservation of a few relics, not the city as a whole.

2) Improving traffic network and urban Infrastructure

Although Beijing had been regarded as a city of bicycles and this was still largely the case, the over 15 percent annual increases of motor vehicles and 25 percent of cars was causing congestion to the existing road network (Dix, 1990). To improve the basic utilities and alleviate the traffic congestion in the inner city, in the city Master Plan, many arterial and secondary streets were to be widened and extended.

Improving utilities was another integral concern in the redevelopment program. Ideally the redevelopment should begin along the arterial streets, then penetrate into the areas within. As Ke described: " The reconstruction should be carried out along with the extending and widening of the planned urban road network so as to lay various underground pipelines for infrastructure and to improve the traffic condition." (Ke, 1991, II). Xu summarized the schedule for renewal projects as: "Street and underground infrastructure first, buildings later." (Xu Mingyuan, 1989). Not only the arterial streets around the super blocks, but the hutongs inside were also suggested to be widened, from the present width of six- or eight-meters to twelve- or fifteen-meters, with seven-meter wide traffic lanes, sidewalks about three-meters and one line of trees on both sides. According to Ke (1991, II), this width was necessary for laying and relaying infrastructure pipelines and to improve basic utilities along the lanes.

Were there any other options besides this large-scale, one-shot solution? Ju-er hutong and Xiaohoucang, on account of their small sizes within the old living quarters, tried to improve the utilities incrementally parcel by parcel. However, these efforts were not appreciated by the Municipal Planning Bureau. Ke criticized their attempts, saying that in these projects, " large-scale infrastructure facilities can not be carried out. Pipes of gas cannot be installed, neither can the waste water be drained off, nor can more adequate amount of fresh water and electricity be supplied." (Ke, 1991, II). According to the municipal government, urban infrastructure could only be improved through large-scale redevelopment, that was to say, mass demolition and reconstruction.

The other purpose of widening the arterial streets and hutongs, was to alleviate the traffic congestion. Although, as Dix argued: "It is surely better, socially and economically, to make adequate provision now, against possible future needs, than later to have to divide communities and destroy houses in order to build roads." (Dix, 1990). However, in the context of the inner city, would widening the main streets and even the hutongs really resolve the traffic problems? On examining the comprehensive plan, it was hardly convincing.

From the experiences of many other countries, the more the lanes available, the greater the traffic volume. According to a survey in 1987, the traffic towards the center included the must-go-in traffic and the through traffic, which accounted for 70% and 29.9% respectively (Zhao, 1990). For the former, if the number of commercial and public buildings were increased in the inner city, as proposed by the Master Plan, the traffic will increase substantially. While for the latter, the more the number of lanes available and the more convenient the routes were, the more traffic could be attracted to cut across the city (Zhao, 1990). As a result, the added lanes were to be accompanied by increasing traffic. The effect of street widening would be totally compromised and congestion not be relieved, if not became worse. Beijing's own experience had already approved it. The newly rewidened Second and Third Ring Road were still jammed often, even though one cycling lane on each side of the divided highway had already been designated for motor traffic.

This approach would also alter the urban fabric and spatial composition. In the case study of Guanganmen Avenue, the street would be widened from 26-meters to 70-meters. To match such a drastic increase, the buildings along the street needed to be of grand scale. The intimate streetscape and spatial composition would be completely lost after redevelopment. Widening the hutongs inside the super blocks to make them open to through traffics to alleviate the congestion on arterial roads was also a self defeating solution. Besides changing the spatial environment of the traditional living quarters, the widened lanes would attract more through traffic, undermining safety and tranquillity in the traditional neighborhoods.

Many experts believed the only feasible way to alleviate congestion in the Old City was to reduce the traffic towards the center. At present, the traffic volume accommodated per km in the Old City was 2.4 times that in the area between the Second and Third Ring Roads. To reverse this trend, one measure was to form the new commercial and public developments outside the Old City. This would deter inhabitants in other areas from entering the city center, and ease the increasing congestion and chaos in the Old City. The other measure was increasing the traffic network density instead of drastically increase the width of the main streets. Thus, the traffic network in the Old City would be dense but narrow in contrast with the wide yet sparse pattern in the suburbs. Due to the dense intersections, the traffic speed would be slow, deterring through traffic (Li Wei, 1992). A planning expert from Singapore even suggested that in order to control the expansion of the existing central shopping streets and to induce the maturing of new centers in other areas, efforts to ameliorate the congestion in the old center could be delayed (Liu Taige, 1989).

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3). Revision of Land Use

According to the city Master Plan, after the redevelopment, besides widening the arteries and streets, up to 3 km2 urban land were blocked out for public or commercial purposes (Ke, 1991, II). Most of the claimed pieces of land were along the arterial streets and at important intersections (fig. 5.4).

Being in the city core, with location advantages such as more convenient public transit facilities, easier access to municipal institutions, and high population density, the Old City area was attractive for large public projects and commercial complexes.

The redevelopment program provided a rare opportunity to revise land use. In many areas, the municipal government feels the prime land was too valuable for residential purposes. Therefore, to demolish the old and dilapidated houses and replace them with new housing blocks seemed to be against the principle of urban land use structure. After the installation of new residential buildings, it would be very difficult to revise land usage again in the future. On this consideration, Ke addressed: "The rational use of urban land should be considered at the time of housing redevelopment. Not only should the present construction, but also the long-term development be taken into account." (Ke, 1991, II). Even for large public or commercial projects for whose implementation conditions were not yet mature, the designated pieces of land should be reserved.

To revise land use through the redevelopment program appeared to be a reasonable scheme, but actually it would lead to some problems that conflict with many other objectives of the Master Plan, such as the reduction of the population density to improve the urban ecological environment, and the amelioration of the traffic congestion.

If more and more large offices and public facilities sprang up in the Old City center, though the population living in the Old City decreased, more people would still congest the same area in business hours, which would drain services and energy, leading to more pollution and other ill-effects to the urban ecological environment. Further, since the people working in the city center might live in the city periphery or suburban areas, the commuting time was unavoidably prolonged and therefore the pressure on public transit and on the circulation network was further aggravated.

Historically, commercial buildings had concentrated in three areas in Beijing: Wangfujing, Xidan and Qianmen. After 40 years of development, they were still the commercial centers. By day, these were crowded and congested places, on account that the transient population in each area was more than one million per day (Zhao, 1990). To lower the population density and alleviate the traffic congestion, a more practical solution to diffuse the over-crowding in these centers was by developing new commercial centers and public buildings in the peripheral areas.

5.1.5 Summary

The above discussion shows that the policies and regulations in the redevelopment program are not compatible with the goal of preserving the Old City as a whole. Although it is now an issue by itself in the Master Plan, city image preservation can not easily integrate with other priorities. The urgent task is to devise well defined and comprehensive regulations and bylaws to regulate the redevelopment in the Old City area as well as new development citywide.

The above analysis seems to point to one direction: to disperse some urban functions outside the Old City in order to relieve the development pressure. Might it not be better, by using proper regulation, to direct most of the large public and commercial developments to areas between the Second and Third Ring Road (not including the inside strips of the Second Ring Road), while simultaneously keeping the Old City mainly for residential purpose? In so doing, the functional city center will be away from its geographical center - removed from the Old City to the ring area around it.

This approach has many advantages. First of all, it is most effective from a historical preservation point of view. It takes away the pressure of development and reduces the traffic flow in the Old City, thus preserving the intimate scale of the streetscape and avoiding drastic transformation. The old urban fabric and many more traditional neighborhoods could also be preserved and revitalized. However, to be economically viable, this approach needs to be subsidized, ideally, from the development of the ring area. Secondly, the structure of the metropolis could be more efficient. The ring area is a mixed development zone; the new public and commercial developments stand side by side with existing residential quarters; with the two express Ring Roads as boundaries and other radiating thoroughfares in between, people can easily get access to their work-units and destinations. All the necessary urban infrastructure is already well established, and new development is far easier to accomplish than in the Old City.

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5.2 Re-accommodation of the Original Residents

Re-accommodation of the original residents, in many ways, relates to the city historical and cultural preservation. People's lifestyle is indivisible from their housing type, and together they form the living pattern and the folk culture. In the decades after 1949, housing regeneration projects generally rehoused the original residents on site or in neighborhoods nearby. Beginning in the 1980's, the original households were relocated in new communities in the near suburb with no fierce opposition. In recent years with increased distance between relocation settlement from the city center, displacement had become more and more a thorny issue.

In the current housing renewal program, relocation was the most sensitive issue, precisely because it directly disrupted hundreds of thousands of original households' day to day lives. In the beginning, this program was earnestly supported by the original residents. They willingly cooperated with the government and the development agencies to vacate their homes and find temporary shelters on their own, because they were assured of on-site rehousing after renewal. In later projects, this cordial relationship soured upon learning that they had to leave their homes and relocate elsewhere in the distant suburbs. In fact, very few people would leave the neighborhood they had lived in for a long period of time if they had a choice.

The prevailing re-accommodation model of recent projects was moving most of the original households out to suburban settlements. The on-site rehousing rate barely exceeded 30% which was the minimum requirement according to the relocation policy issued by the Beijing Old and Dilapidated Housing Renewal Office. The households which stayed usually had more means than the displaced. Similarly, the new comers were mainly employees of privileged state owned work units or households with very high income (He Hongyu, 1993). With the original residents having less money and power replaced by those with higher financial or social status, housing regeneration in Beijing had a similar effect as western 'gentrification', though through a widely different process.

Many Chinese scholars had observed this phenomenon and their opinions were diverse.

The arguments in favor of displacement were:

  • It might help to disperse the Old City population.
  • It was conducive for land-use readjustment.
  • It made the renewal projects financially feasible.
  • It could be an incentive to push housing system reform forward.
  • He Hongyu (1993) argued that the neighborhoods might become more healthy after being gentrified, because before, "the old neighborhoods were mainly composed of people in lower social status, lower education level and in lower household income, thus in general, the neighborhoods were enveloped by a 'depressing' atmosphere" 2.
  • Some argued that gentrification was inevitable, because land value was where the true economic incentive lay and gentrification guaranteed the economic feasibility of the program.

The arguments against a high percentage of displacement, were:

  • Displacement did not disperse the Old City population.
  • Relocating the original residents to the city fringes and redevelopment of the land to public and commercial purpose would increase the amount of commuting traffic, thus worsened the traffic congestion.
  • Only if most residents were rehoused on site after renewal, could the program gain support from the residents and go smoothly forward.
  • A high percentage of displacement destroyed the old community while the new one took time to form. This was disruptive to the lives of the more vulnerable components of the community, the children and the elderly.

It seems that the arguments are mainly around three aspects on which relocation affects: the Master Plan, economic feasibility and neighborhood vitality.

5.2.1 On the City Master Plan

Since over-crowding directly, though not singularly, led to the deterioration of the old living quarters, reducing the population density within the inner city was an important concern in the city Master Plan. According to the 1980's Master Plan, the population was expected to reduce in 20 years from 1,800,000 to 1,200,000 by the year 2,000, a reduction of 600,000 or one third. Housing renewal program provided the best chance for implementing the plan. However, this target had proved to be over ambitious. In fact, in 1990 the Old City districts had a population of 1,750,000, a reduction of only 50,000 people in ten years (Lü Junhua, 1993 II). The new version of city Master Plan in 1990s called for more realizable goals: a decrease from the present 1,750,000 to 1,600,000 by the year 2,000 and a further decrease to 1,500,000 by 2,010 (Lü Junhua, 1993, II).

Population density was a key factor in determining the quality of life (Ma, 1981). Currently the Old City had an average density of about 30,000 capita/km 2, far beyond the environmental capacity (Cao Lianqun, 1991). Residents in the old city needed to be dispersed in order to create a more healthy urban environment. But where could they go? Land for large scale development in the city center and near suburban areas was very scarce, and even in the ten peripheral settlements land was drying up. The city's planning authorities hoped to conserve the current "scattered-concentration" pattern for settlements around the central city area, separated by green space merging inward, which was very helpful in maintaining the city's ecological environment (Fig. 5.5). Therefore, the new settlements were located further and further away from the city center, even to the satellite towns (Lü Junhua, 1993, II).

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Finally, according to the city Master Plan, land-use in the Old City would be adjusted to reduce the residential land in the central urban area from 35 km2 to 24 km2 (Sun & Zhang, 1989). And the former residential land would be occupied by widened roads or turned to public or commercial usage. Given the limited low FAR in the Old City and required living space per capita, the land-use adjustment would also lead to a decrease in the population residing in the Old City.

Zhang estimates in the master plan for renewal projects that in the four urban districts, residents in parcels designated for public or commercial development numbered 94,000, while another 80,000-90,000 residents would be dispersed from parcels for housing regeneration. Together they totaled about 180,000 (Zhang Zhixian, 1992). It seemed that the objective of reducing 150,000 people by the year 2,000 was feasible.

However, could this plan be implemented? And further, even if it could be implemented, would it lead towards a more healthy urban ecological environment? For the housing regeneration projects, as a fact, the population density could hardly be reduced. The traditional courtyard housing neighborhoods, being one story high, the FAR was generally around 0.453. Even with all the additions, it could hardly be more than 0.7. But in the redevelopment projects, the FAR in some area near the Second Ring Road exceeded 2.0, leading to an increase in the number of households and residents after renewal. As for the other parcels for public and commercial purpose, although the number of residents might decrease, many more people would congest in business hours. With the accompanied expansion of urban services and recreation facilities, the urban ecological environment could in no way be improved.

5.2.2 Economic Feasibility

One important feature of the redevelopment projects is that the developer enterprises manage the financial issues themselves, without subsidy from the government. To be profitable, they build as high as the bylaw permits and as much as they can. The prevailing practice in renewal projects to re-accommodate the original households is to displace most of them to suburban areas. This is not aimed to reduce the population density, but to guarantee financial profit.

With the prominent role of land value, the redevelopment program seems more and more like any real estate development. The difference in the housing price of different locations reflects the differential value of the land, because the construction cost for mass housing is about the same. If they move out after renewal, then the original households exchange the shadow value of the pieces of land they once occupied (but not owned) with houses they get in the suburban settlement.

In the next section, through an analysis of a simplified financial model, the role relocation plays in the project balance sheet will be examined.

The basic assumptions:

A) The total floor space for households rehoused on-site is 150% as large as before, while that for households relocated in suburb is 200%4.

B) Before renewal the households rehoused on-site had similar living space as those relocated to the suburb, so the 30% return rate means these households previously occupied 30% of built area before renewal.


An: Total floor area after renewal

Anr: Built area occupied by the returning households after renewal

Anm: Built area for sale at market price after renewal

Asr: Floor area needed to relocate the households moving out to suburban settlement

Ao: Total floor area before renewal

a: Floor area rate - total floor area after renewal to that of before

b: Return rate - households rehoused on-site to the total original households before renewal


An = Anr + Anm

a = An/ Ao

An = a*Ao

Anr = b*Ao*150% = 1.5bAo

Anm = An - Anr = aAo - 1.5bAo

Asr =(1-b)*Ao*200% = 2(1-b)Ao


Pnm: Market price for dwelling units per m2 after renewal

Pnr: Differential price for returning households per m2 after renewal, usually it is one tenth of Pnm

Psr: Market price per m2 for dwelling units to relocate moving out households in suburban settlement

Cc: Construction related cost per m2

Ct&f: Average Taxes and Fees to Municipal Government per m2 of renewal projects

Csr: Expenses for relocation in suburban settlement

In: Total income from renewal project

Cn: Total cost of renewal project, including Cc, Ct&f and Csr

Pn: Total profit of the renewal project

Pp: Average profit per m2 of renewal project

W: Profit rate - profit per m2 to market sales price after renewal


In = Anr*Pnr + Anm*Pnm

= 1.5bAo*1/10*Pnm + (aAo - 1.5bAo)*Pnm

= aAoPnm - 1.35bAoPnm

Cn = Cc + Ct&f + Csr

= An*Cc + An*Ct&f + Asr*Psr

= aAoCc + aAoCt&f + 2(1-b)AoPsr

Pn = In - Cn

= aAoPnm - 1.35bAoPnm - aAoCc - aAoCt&f - 2(1-b)AoPsr

Pp = Pn/An

= Pnm - Cc - Ct&f - [1.35bPnm + 2(1-b)Psr]/a

W = Pp/Pnm

In the function of Pp, the Average Profit per m2 of renewal projects, Pnm, Psr, Cc, Ct&f and a are comparatively pre-decided, the factor developers can manipulate is b, the rate of returning residents. When developers pursue the maximum profit, they seek to achieve the minimum of [1.35bPnm + 2(1-b)Psr],

let F = 1.35bPnm + 2(1-b)Psr

= 2Psr + (1.35Pnm - 2Psr)b

A). When 1.35Pnm - 2Psr > 0 or, Pnm > 1.48 Psr,

then, if b decreases , F decreases. b = 0, Fmin = 2Psr

B). When Pnm = 1.48 Psr,

then, if b varies, F = Fmin = 2Psr = 1.35Pnm

C). When Pnm < 1.48 Psr,

then, if b increases, F decreases. b = 1, Fmin = 1.35 Pnm

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In the case of A, when the sale price of renewal project is 1.5 times higher than that of the relocation settlement, which is the reality in most cases, then the developer intends to displace all the original households to suburban settlements. But if the disparity of prices is less than that, like the case of C, then it is more sensible for the developers to rehouse the original households on-site.

As Lü observed, the market prices of housing reflected clearly the value of various locations (fig. 5.6) - 'good location, high price' (Lü Junhua, 1993, II). The relocation projects were commonly beyond the Third Ring Road, the price disparity was between 2-3 times, much higher than 1.5, thus favoring high percentage of displacement.

(1). Old City Courtyard Houses: 10,000 Yuan/m2 (plot area).

(2). Within Second Ring Road: 6,000-7,500 Yuan/m2 (built area).

(3). Within Third Ring Road: 4,500-5,500 Yuan/m2 (built area).

(4). Within Fourth Ring Road: 3,000-3,500 Yuan/m2 (built area).

(5). Within Fifth Ring Road: 2,000-2,500 Yuan/m2 (built area).

(6). In County Towns: 1,500-2,000 Yuan/m2 (built area).

The previous formula shows that a also affects profit pursuing. If a rises, then Pp also rises. This explains why developers always push for a higher FAR.

Let us test this financial model in detail through a real case. The following table (Table 5.1) shows the price composition of a renewal project in the Old City:

Table 5.1 Housing price composition in a Renewal Project, 1993 (source: Liu Qi, 1993)

Items Value(million Yuan) Yuan/m2 Percent of Total (1)Acquisition & Relocation 47.10 3623.23 52.1% 52.1% (2)Initial Works Fee 0.81 62.40 0.9% On-site Infrastructure 2.91 223.63 3.2% Construction & Fitting 11.70 900.00 12.9% 21.8% Common Facilities 2.29 175.87 2.5% Management 2.07 158.88 2.3% (3)Four-source Fee 1.05 81.00 1.2% Urban Infrastructure 13.38 1029.33 14.8% Business Tax, Urban Construction 3.17 243.70 3.5% 20.1% Tax & Education Fee Electricity 0.52 40.0 0.6% Access Right (4)Profit 5.42 417.14 6.0% 6.0% Selling Price 90.42 6955.18 100% 100%

Note: Total construction area was 13,000 m2, occupying one hectare of land.

It is astonishing that expenses on land acquisition and relocation amounts to 52.1% of the market price. In addition, the taxes and fees paid to government, which are mainly for infrastructure improvement, are almost as much as the total construction related costs, making up 20.1% of the selling price. In other words, in purchasing a dwelling unit in the renewal area, more than half of the purchase price is to pay for buying houses in suburban area to relocate the original households. Another 20% are paid to the government for improving the urban infrastructure. The construction-related costs only amount to 21.8% of the selling price.

If housing renewal undertakes a non-profit upgrading approach, then the original households will only need to pay the 21.8% construction-related costs and some additional costs for the infrastructure improvement. The costs on infrastructure improvement would be much less than the present 20.1% if the infrastructure standard is lowered to the standard for ordinary housing instead of for large scale commercial or public buildings, and subsequently the taxes and fees to the government could be reduced or exempted.

Who really benefits from such a high sales price? The answer is government and developers. Because the taxes and fees the municipal government charge are almost a fixed percentage of the sales price, the higher the selling price, the more the government's revenue. Similar situation is with developers, for whom there is a profit cap of 8% of project cost set by the municipal government, the more expensive the project, the more they profit. Since relocation expenses are factored into project costs, the profit in cases involving relocation is even higher if developers of the renewal project and the relocation project are the same. In addition, the displaced households inhabiting the new settlements generally are tenants, they don't own their dwelling units if they did not buy when they were relocated. Either the district governments or the developers owns these units, which could potentially be sold someday when housing reform went further.

In the example project, the profit the developer gained is only 6%. Could it be possible that the profit is really so low? Let us use the previous financial model to redo the calculation.

Here the Pnm = 6,955.18 Yuan/ m2. If assuming the relocation settlement is in the area between the Third and Fourth Ring Road, then the Psr is between 3,000 - 3,500 Yuan/ m2, say it is 3,300. Pnm / Psr = 2.1 > 1.48, the developer would intend to relocate all the original households in city fringe, or at most rehouse 30% on-site as required. Cc = 1,520.8, Ct& f = 1,394.03. Other assumption is on a, from the average FAR of eight projects before and after renewal in Stage One (Abramson, 1994), Ao and An are respectively 0.59 and 1.51. Here conservatively taking them as 0.6 and 1.41, so a = 2.35.

Pp = Pnm - Cc - Ct&f - [1.35bPnm + 2(1-b)Psr] / a

(1). If b = 0, then

Pp = 1,231.84 Yuan/ m2

W = Pn / Pnm = 17.7%,

that means if the original households were totally displaced, then the profit rate could be as high as 17.7% of the selling price;

(2). If b = 0.3, then

Pp = 875.73 Yuan/ m2

W = 12.6%;

that means in case 30% of the original households were rehoused on-site, the profit rate was still very considerable, much higher than the profit cap permitted;

(3). If b = 1, then

Pp = 44.82 Yuan/ m2

W = 0.6%;

that means if the original households were totally rehoused on-site, the developer almost didn't make money.

It is now clear that Beijing's housing renewal is actually a large scale urban redevelopment, in which the value of urban land is created out of nothing. It seems, in present practice, this distribution of land value is not fairly done among the involved interest groups. Developers and governments get more than an even share at the cost to the original households and the historical city. There are strong arguments against this high rate of displacement, which in fact questions the goal of the redevelopment program: Is it aimed to improve the original residents' living conditions or just the physical environment? As an architect questioned, is it a rehabilitation program or just a real estate development? (Huang, 1991)

5.2.3 Impacts on Neighborhood Communities

The term neighborhood can mean many different things, from a self-sufficient spatial unit, to being a city block. To some, the notion of neighborhood merely means a particular section of a city with which people identify themselves (Lynch, 1981), others emphasize its human dimension, Jane Jocobs defined neighborhood as a residential area of modest dimensions where social links were easily formed (Jocobs, 1961). For her, neighborhood is where people are united by the proximity of their dwelling in space.

Actually, physical surroundings of specific dimensions and the residents inhabited within are two undetachable components of a neighborhood. An ideal neighborhood is where people are personally acquainted with each other, and common services play a definite role in promoting control, stability and security (Lynch, 1981).

Neighborhoods in traditional residential quarters in Beijing are good examples of such an ideal state. Historically, neighborhood community is a well-defined concept in Chinese city planning. With the transformation of both the physical environments and the custom of habitation, neighborhoods remain the basic functioning tissues of Chinese cities.

The relationship between social custom and physical habitation is subtle and complex ( Lü Junhua, 1993, I). As described in Chapter Three, the traditional courtyard housing in Beijing is no longer the spacious domain for extended families bound by filial ties, it now shelters several families sharing the courtyard completely filled with self-built additions. With the low mobility of Chinese households, after nearly half a century, relationships between neighbors are forged through the years. The residents in these neighborhoods also have some distinct features 5.

(1). Mixed community. First of all, the residents were widely varied in terms of age, education, employment, family income, property rights and years of occupation. These were mixed neighborhoods with people of various social status. Besides households of low social rank, who had to stay because of inability to acquire new housing, others chose to stay because they preferred the convenience of central location to better conditions in the suburban settlement. There were also some employees of important state owned work-units who enjoyed rather good living conditions (Tan Yin, 1994).

(2). Low mobility. Most families had been living in the same area for a long time. From a survey of two renewal parcels, it showed that nearly 70% of residents had stayed over 20 years and over 40% over 30 years (Table 5.2).

Table 5.2 Time span of households in Chaonei and Nanchizi (source: Tan Ying, 1994)

Time Span Family Proportion (%) (years) Chaonei 1992 Nanchizi 1993 less than 10 20.8 22.4 10 to 20 10.2 10.3 20 to 30 23.1 25.2 30 to 40 27.7 22.4 40 to 50 9.3 11.5 50 plus 9.0 8.2

(3). Lower than average income. Most of the working population were employed in medium-sized state or collectively owned work-units. Their family income level was lower than the average of the city (Tan Yin, 1994).

(4). High proportion of senior citizens. The neighborhoods were aged communities. The survey showed the neighborhoods had higher proportion of elderly people than the city average and the international standard as well (Table 5.3) (Tan Yin, 1994). Senior residents played an active and important role in these communities. Neighborhood committee, the administrator of a community, was mainly run by senior residents. They helped self-policing the neighborhood during the day time. They also provided many convenient services such as daycare, small food store, bicycle repair, which kept them in touch with society and provided them with extra income. Senior residents possibly contributed the most to the stability of a neighborhood.

Table 5.3 Age structure of residents in old neighborhoods (source: Tan Ying, 1994)

Age of Guanyuan Chaonei Nanchizi Beijing International Residents 1992 1992 1993 1989 aged society % % % % standard* Children less than 14 19.1 21 18 19.7 less than 30 Senior over 65 14.2 13 12 7.3 more than 10 Aged/Children (%) 74.3 63 69 37.3 more than 30

The spatial layout and housing type shaped the dwelling culture in these old neighborhoods. Hutongs, due to their low accessibility by motor vehicles, were still pedestrian realms. Under pleasant tree shade within the confines of intimately scaled hutongs, residents easily socialized with each other. In the shared courtyards, no matter how narrow the remaining open space, there was always room for flowers, birds and goldfishes (Casault, 1988, p.78). Being only one story high, with little segregation between in-door and out-door space, courtyard housing encouraged people to conduct more activities outside their houses, and therefore encouraged interaction between neighbors and gave vitality to the street life.

Although the physical living conditions were very poor, the old residential quarters were by no means slums. Social structure here was stable. Public services, like health care, education and transportation, were well provided. In addition, most people had jobs. Most residents were not satisfied with the living conditions, they complained about overcrowding, low building quality and sub-standard facilities. However, most of them still preferred to stay at the same location whether the conditions improved or not (Tan Yin, 1994). Unfortunately, their wishes were not respected in the recent large-scale renewal projects in which the original residents were mostly moved out to city fringe, while households with higher income or in higher social profile moved in.

The relocation policy intended to accommodate the original residents collectively, whether in the peripheral settlement or back in the renewed apartment. This was aimed to keep the continuity of the old neighborhood. However, the physical environment changed too drastically to meet this end.

Most of the relocation housing were six-story walk-up slabs whether in city center or fringe. This type of housing was not conducive to the traditional life-style. The inconvenient linkage to the ground level, through the shared dark and narrow staircase, barricaded the access of residents, especially the elderly, to public open space. The once intimate and comfortable corner space or small open space along the well-defined linear hutong were replaced by the ubiquitous over-scaled public space. While huge building masses pierced the green canopy of trees, no more rich hierarchy of space from public to private exists. All these ruined the physical footings which nurtured old habitation culture.

In addition, both the relocated and the returning households faced special problems. For the relocated households, they were often the pioneers of a settlement still under construction when they moved in. The management in the new districts was often extremely inefficient for the first couple of years, like a lag in transferring of their household registration (Hukou in Chinese), lack of some basic facilities to support day to day life as well as poor security (Lü Junhua, 1993, II). Amidst all these inconveniences, the relocated households started to shape their neighborhoods. For the returning households, they were not uncommonly rehoused in clusters separated from the commodity housing, in smaller apartments with lower standard of finishing. In some cases, developers gave differential treatment to the commodity dwellings in management and security, even though the returning households lived immediately adjacent (Lü Junhua, 1993, II). This deliberately segregated the returning households from the new neighborhoods.

5.3 Conclusion

Through detailed analysis on the topics of political objective, socio-economic convention and economic limitation, the two basic problems in housing renewal program, the negative impacts on historical preservation and neighborhood destruction had been shown more clearly. It seemed, to this end, the key responsibility lay in the hand of the government.

The municipal and district governments did not assume the appropriate position in the program. Instead of being a non-profit coordinator helping people in dilapidated housing get improved accommodations, the two levels of government became the biggest winner through the process, subsequently, blurring the role of government. Or, even worse, government sometimes stood on the same side as developers for its own interests, confusing the purpose of the program. No wonder people asked that it was a rehabilitation program or just a real estate redevelopment?

On the other hand, the above analysis also showed that the government did not have a clear vision for the future of the city. Many objectives of the city Master Plan were not mutually compatible. The questions of how to preserve the Old City image or what needed to be preserved had still not yet been properly addressed. It appeared that the authorities were not concerned about preserving anything in the renewal projects. The current preservation policy was only interested in the protection of some important historical sites and cultural relics, and, at most, including the immediate surroundings of each site. Traditional courtyard houses were deemed as an obsolete housing typology. The only value they had was as a reminder of historical heritage. Except for a few neighborhoods where the houses were still in good condition, all the other traditional living quarters were to be demolished to make room for new construction.

However, for many architects, planners, and scholars in other disciplines, historical preservation was meaningful only when the spirit of the city was preserved as a whole. In this sense the traditional courtyard houses should be preserved in two ways. One was as the best physical background for the important relics, the other was as a conveyor of the traditional dwelling culture. They argued that in many ways, courtyard housing being an urban housing typology still better served the specific needs of their inhabitants (Casault, 1988).

It is distressing that Beijing seems to follow the same wrong track as many other countries. As Dix observed, "When the most pressing problem is the provision of new accommodation to meet the needs of increased population and the replacement of slums, conservation naturally takes second place, coming to the forefront only when residential demand and supply are more balanced, and there is the opportunity to consider the conservation of those buildings that remain." (Dix, 1990). However, that is always a little too late. Lessons in urban renewal from many other countries need to be learned. In fact, the timing chosen to initiate the urban renewal is quite proper, because after ten years construction the dire needs in housing have already been alleviated to a great extent. The problem here is that as a vernacular housing typology, the value of the traditional courtyard house has not yet been sufficiently appreciated.

In the circumstances of large scale redevelopment in recent years, the eight million m2 old courtyard houses will disappear very soon if the vision of the government does not change and the policies and regulations are not revised accordingly. Integrated strategies are needed, from city Master Plan to detailed regulation, they should all keep the goal in mind - to preserve the Old Beijing in spirit, as well as in cityscape, where courtyard housing is an integral constituent.

As a valuable heritage, courtyard houses of Beijing are facing critical challenge for their survival. Many countries have made mistakes in similar situations and are now regretting, must Beijing follow their footsteps?

1Ke Huanzhang, who was the director of the Beijing Municipal Planning Institute. Many of his articles on urban development were actually the explanations of Policies and Regulations issued by the institute.

2 This is not necessarily true. We can get a better view of these areas from Tan's survey which will be further discussed in section 5.2.3: impacts on neighborhood communities.

3 It was estimated that with all the self-built additions, the FAR of traditional courtyard houses increased about 30-40%, from 0.45 up to 0.60 (Zhang Jingjin, 1992).

4 This estimation is based on two considerations: (1). The rate of usable space/built area in pre-renewal traditional courtyard house is 0.95, and in new buildings it is 0.76, an equivalent to 80%. (2). After renewal, the usable space for the on-site rehoused households increases to 120% that of before, and that for the households relocated to the suburbs increases to 160%. This estimation could be verified by the data on the built areas of many projects beforee and after renewal from Abramson (Abramson, 1994).

5These features were based on a report by Tan Ying, which was the result of field surveys on three renewal parcels, Guanyuan, Chaonei and Nanchizi.

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