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Public Opposition Leads to the Suspension of Hutong Demolition

In February this year, the Dongcheng District Housing Department (fang guan ju) issued demolition notices regarding the east portion of Dongsi Batiao Hutong. In the announcements, it claimed that the Beijing Development and Reform Commission and the Beijing Urban Planning Commission had approved a real estate development project on this site, and the affected local residents would be required to move by the deadline set forth in the announcement. On April 15, a deadline of May 26 was set.
This real estate development project, with a total investment of 570 million RMB, aimed to erect an 18-meter high-rise plus four other residential buildings on the north side of Dongsi Baitiao Hutong.
Since these houses are located within the historical preservation district, the public has expressed strong opposition to the demolition, and a few local media, including the Beijing News, have published a series of interviews and commentaries expressing concerns. The volunteers of our “Friends of Old Beijing” program have been very proactive in the process. They not only notified us about this demolition, but also agreed to take media interviews and write letters to government offices. Here is a summary of our volunteer program’s stance:

I. The affected courtyards of this development project are part of the construction control area of the “Dongsi Historical Preservation District”. According to the Conservation Planning of 25 Historic Areas in Beijing Old City, the guidelines for any new construction in this district is as follows:
  1. Any new buildings must be of the same style as the core-protected area on the south side of the hutong.
  2. Any new construction must strictly control land use, the height of architecture, size, style and exterior wall color, architecture and land use ratio, and green land ratio, etc.
  3. Any new construction must avoid large scale demolition of old houses.
  4. Historical buildings of cultural significance (at this site there is a single level 1 building and six level 2 buildings), the traditional neighborhood, the hutong layout, and ancient trees must be protected and preserved.
  5. The style of architecture on both sides of Dongsi Batiao should be the same, and the height of new buildings on the north side of Dongsi Batiao must be 6 meters or less if they are located within 10 meters from the north side of the Hutong.
  6. The whole Construction Control Zone from the east end of Dongsi Batiao to the west end is further divided up into 14 blocks of land, and each block has its specific land use and other construction requirements.
II. The draft of Conservation Planning of 25 Historic Areas in Beijing Old City was commissioned and approved by the Beijing Municipal Government, and its authority is recognized by the Measures for the Protection of Historical and Cultural Landmarks of Beijing and the Urban Planning Law of People’s Republic of China. Any project violating this Conservation Plan is also violating the law.
III. The controversy over the demolition of Dongsi Batiao reflects the vague understanding of some government officials regarding cultural heritage protection work within the construction control area. The correct solution for the government is to stop this real estate development project immediately, and follow up in the following manner:
  1. Provide detailed architectural or urban planning information of this area to the public, including the specific location of these level one and level two sites, and the other 14 protected blocks. The public has the right to know this information.
  2. Organize public hearings to fully consider the opinion of the public and the experts to evaluate whether or not this real estate development project constitutes a threat to the character of the historical district. If the conclusion is negative, then this project should be stopped forever.
IV. The Beijing Municipal Government, the Beijing Urban Planning Bureau and the Dongcheng District Government should take full responsibility for the protection of this historical district, and we hope they will thoroughly and strictly follow the laws mentioned above.

Obviously, the democratic reform in China’s bureaucratic offices are making progress. We are happy to see that the government has tolerated opposing opinions. Now the Beijing Urban Planning Bureau and the Dongcheng District have both agreed to suspend this project. What comes next? We would like to see more positive actions from the government to show their respect for the public’s opinion.

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