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Heritage Trail project

Drum Tower plan shelved

Global Times by Li Shuang, Tuesday 9 September

The Bell Tower, as seen from the Drum Tower Monday Photo: Wang Zi

The Bell Tower, as seen from the Drum Tower Monday Photo: Wang Zi

Controversial plans to redevelop the historic Gulou Drum Tower hutong area into a tourism attraction have been placed on hold after the merger of Dongcheng and Chongwen districts into a combined new Dongcheng district government.

Extensive plans to “restore” Gulou into something dubbed “Time Cultural City” by the former Dongcheng district director Yang Yiwen have all been shelved, according to a government insider who requested anonymity.

“The Time Cultural City is a thing of the past,” an anonymous deputy director of the new Dongcheng district was quoted as saying in a Beijing Times report Monday.

While the authorities maintain Gulou’s future is unclear, culture heritage preservation experts were celebrating Monday what they characterized as new hope for one of the city’s last remaining pieces of authentic hutong culture.

Announced at the beginning of the year, Yang’s plan was supposed to be put in motion this year and be completed by 2012.

The government developers were to dig around the Drum and Bell towers and all the adjoining Ming and Qing dynasty hutong to create an un-derground museum chronicling ancient timekeeping technology complete with restaurants, shopping and parking spaces.

Rumors of demolition of the residential area had been rampant ever since, although no official notice was ever delivered.

“We want demolition and a move to a better place,” said a 78-year-old resident surnamed Zhang Monday. Zhang lives with his wife in a 20-square-meter room in Caochang Hutong.

“We’ve been waiting for the official notice of demolition.”

Most residents average less than 10 square meters of living space per person, according to the Zhonglouwan Residents Committee.

The Time Cultural City plan could not be found on the 2011-2030 development plan of the newly merged Dongcheng district people’s congress at the end of August.

“The plan has been put on halt,” said Dongcheng district spokeswoman Lü Lu Monday. “It’s unclear what is to follow at this point.

“The living conditions of that area are not very good. The district government will work out a solution, but we’re still in the process of merging at this moment.”

With the merger of old Chongwen and Dongcheng districts into a new Dongcheng district officially completed with the election of new directors on August 26, Drum Tower demolition rumors have almost entirely died off.

“We haven’t heard anything about the Time Cultural City since June,” a worker with the Zhonglouwan Hutong residents committee said Monday.

Cultural heritage preservation experts see this as a chance to reconsider the development plan for the area.

“The halt buys us some time to really think about what’s best for both the residents and preserving history,” said Zhang Pei of the Beijing Cultural Heri-tage Protection Center.

“The residential area around the towers are as precious as the towers themselves and really should not be demolished,” said Li Luke, a professor of architecture history at Tsinghua University.

“There must be a way to move the residents out to better housing conditions and preserve the hutong at the same time.”

Read the original article.

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