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Heritage Trail project

Gulou meeting silenced

Global Times by Liu Xuan on Mon 29/03/2010

The police squelched a public meeting over plans to redevelop the Drum and Bell Tower area as a tourist attraction recreating life in historic Beijing, complete with an underground museum mall and parking complex.

Organizers of the meeting, who say the project will destroy the neighborhood’s traditional courtyard homes and displace local residents, refused to discuss why the meeting was canceled at such short notice.

However, the reporter overheard a policeman complain to the owner of the meeting venue that the event was widely publicized. He was one of several policemen at the scene Saturday to supervise the cancellation.

“Why should they post an online ad for the meeting?” the policeman asked rhetorically. “My boss got really vexed and called me again and again Sunday.”

Xinhua reporter Wang Jun, Party secretary of the Tsinghua University School of Architecture Bian Lanchun, and the British founder of Plastered T-Shirts, Dominic Johnson-Hill, were all slated to speak at the meeting held in an old temple.

“I didn’t expect this event would make some people feel sensitive,” said meeting organizer He Shuzhong, chairman of the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center.

Rather, he wanted to draw attention to a range of views about the construction project, scheduled for completion by the end of 2012.

Under the theme of tracking time, the original function of the Drum and Bell Towers, the Beijing Oriental Culture Assets Operation Corporation plans to clear the way for two public squares and remodel the area to resemble scenes from the Ming and Qing dynasties, the Beijing News reported, citing the top official of Dongcheng district.

The time-keeping museum, mall and parking areas will be kept underground.

The project calls for the protection and reuse of historical buildings, similar to the model of the Qianmen street south of Tiananmen Square, which was transformed into a Old-Beijing-themed strip mall that even its developer disavows.

Wang Jun, who covers urban development for Xinhua and also wrote a book about cultural preservation in Beijing, said “It sounds like another Qianmen fake-antique-like street.” Wang said the plan clearly violates municipal law, and he questioned the legality of many development projects in Beijing.

He Shuzhong said he thinks the biggest problem with the redevelopment of old Beijing districts is that existing laws, regulations and policies are not well respected, and that scholars and experts from the relevant cultural protection bureaus are very inactive during internal consultative meetings within the government.

A person who answered the phone at Andingmen police station refused to comment on why the meeting was cancelled, saying, “We are in charge of this area so our presence in this area is something normal.”

Organizer He would only say, “I was informed of the cancellation of the meeting only around Friday noon time.”

Both he and a spokeswoman from the group refused to elaborate. Local residents said that no one has received eviction notices related to this project.

Chris Hawke contributed to this story

Read original article.

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