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Heritage Trail project

Mass relocation planned for Beijing’s historic axis

Global Times By Xu Tianran, Monday 24 January 2011

Residents living around the Bell Tower may be relocated to Chaoyang and Tongzhou districts. Photo: Wang Zi

Residents living around the Bell Tower may be relocated to Chaoyang and Tongzhou districts. Photo: Wang Zi

Dongcheng district authorities announced Thursday that a mass relocation project will commence along the city’s central axis area this year.

The project is part of the city’s efforts to apply for UNESCO World Heritage status for Beijing’s central axis, which stretches 7.8 kilometers from Yongding Gate to the Bell Tower and includes the Forbidden City, the Imperial Ancestral Temple and Zhongnanhai, among other cultural sites.

Massive relocation projects for people living in the Drum and Bell Tower and Temple of Heaven areas will be carried out because “there should be no residential houses around the cultural sites,” Dongcheng district committee secretary Yang Liuyin was quoted as saying by the Beijing News, which also reported that Yang said courtyards without much value would be demolished.

No details concerning how many people will be affected or the extent of the areas involved have been made available yet.

The district government, the Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage and Municipal Commission of Urban Planning will discuss the exact relocation plan for the whole axis and publish the details later this year, according to the Beijing News report.

“The conditions of the overpopulated hutong houses are not good. It would be better for [the residents] to move out of the district,” Yang was quoted as saying by the Beijing News, adding that the project will not violate principles of voluntary relocation and will get the consent of affected citizens.

Many of the residences that would be affected are home to multiple families with low incomes.

According to Yang, citizens who consent to relocation will be properly compensated and moved to residential buildings in Chaoyang and Tongzhou districts. The government will also request that the Municipal Commission of Housing and Urban-Rural Development provide welfare housing to help accommodate some of the displaced.

Meanwhile, some of Dongcheng district’s public resources – like schools and clinics – will also be moved to the new communities, enabling citizens to enjoy the same standards of service as before, the Beijing News reported.

The aim is to move 200,000 people out of the district and to keep the number of permanent residents under 650,000 by 2030, according to Yang.

“Frankly, downtown is indeed overpopulated, but if the aim of the relocation is to control the overall population, the authorities should not only eye the common or the poor. There are plenty of governmental institutions which should also be relocated,” said He Shuzhong, founder of the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center.

“If the aim is to improve living standards, you should ask for residents’ opinions first,” He continued, saying that it is acceptable to tear down the most dilapidated houses, but that massive screening work is required to determine which houses can be demolished.

“Many hutong houses appear shabby at first glance, because no one has bothered to renovate or manage them in the past 30 years. But they will be valuable buildings again after renovation,” He said.

In response to Dongcheng district committee secretary Yang Liuyin’s claim, He asserted that it is not reasonable to relocate locals for the sake of cultural protection.

“Because the lifestyle of the local residents is an important part of the cultural sites, the two cannot be divided,” He said.

Liu Zheng, a member of the China Cultural Relics Association, thought the district committee secretary might have misspoken.

“The Beijing old town, as a famous city of history and culture, is a living heritage. Without people, it would be no longer alive,” Liu said, adding that the original courtyards were not crowded at all and that Beijing’s climbing population is the cause of the current situation.

“It would be ideal to relocate the redundant population, according to their own will, and restore the courtyards as they used to be,” Liu explained.

“It’s not convenient to live elsewhere. I like courtyards and I’m used to life here,” said a 45-year-old woman surnamed Xia, who has lived in Qianmachang Hutong in the Gulou area since she was born. “I won’t leave, no matter how much compensation is offered.”

Xiong Chengcheng contributed to this story

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