Beijing’s future appearance?

Beijing is one of my favorite cities. I recently visited as part of the Future Forest effort to fight desertification through the planting of trees. I picked up a fascinating booklet at that time that describes plans for extensive new real estate developments. Let us start by looking at traditional Beijing and its narrow alleys known as “hutong.” These hutong roads are rapidly disappearing as part of contemporary progress.

But this copy of China Real Estate Magazine presents a profoundly different vision of what is possible in China, one that is both entrancing and worrisome.

6 responses to “Beijing’s future appearance?

  1. Craig April 16, 2012 at 7:08 am

    And another map, …

    http://greenbelt.ca/maps/ontarios-greenbelt-20

    LArge cities need to stop planning for maximal populations and start thinking about how to best focus development.

    One of the most charming aspects of traditional Chinese urban life is the hutong in the old capital and equivalents in provincial centres. Losing these is a disaster.

  2. Craig April 16, 2012 at 7:25 am

    My larger post appears to have disappeared in the ether. I abhor WordPress.

    The original post said something similar to this but more eloquently:

    – We live in glass boxex in the sky. We werne’t meant to live this way; what’s missing from these plans in Beijing is, as usual, any appreciation for human scale. Like all Communist or Great Plan or New City development ideals, whether in the brutalist 1960’s “Progressive” North American context or in the Great Development age of China, the human scale is omitted.

    We were meant to live in groups of 50-300 people. Now, the fabric of our social and personal interations is bent entirely out of shape. Few people are happy, privacy is impossible, and meaningful interaction is at a minimum.

    Cities like London, New York, and especially Asian cities – Shanghai, Seoul, Beijing, and not to forget Tokyo – are inhuman, draining, exciting, crushing and terrifying. They devour the human spirit. The one consistent thing all people have always said about such places: They demean, destroy and defile the human spirit. This goes back to Ur and Akkad; in the Epic of Gilgamesh, the city is painted as a place of vice and human enslavement, while Enkidu is better as a wild man, free in the limitless wonder of the fresh air outside the walls.

    The best city developments take this facet of human psychosocial behavior into account. I speak specifically, not to toot the horn of the place from which I hail, of Toronto.

    As much as it’s reviled there, and as much as it suffers from savage traffic and whatnot, it has gems that barely survived the “great developments” of recent history, more as a result of luck than conscious effort. The Annex neighbourhood, a vast tree-lined victorian oasis, and the western areas off of it, are virtually invisible in the summer for the trees. Gardens abound. And the neighbourhood is far from unique. Old buildings must be recycled into new: instead of being demolished, buildings considered historically noteworthy are often dismantled or partly maintained and incorporated into new construction. Some of the results are stunning and in a real way represent a true local architectural innovation. In-fill housing also brings great interest to local areas.

    Some of this happens in Seoul, but tragically little. Anything old in Asia is considered garbage. Anything of character is stamped out of existence. For a decade, the material is concrete, and every single building is made of concrete. Then it’s red or white concrete slab. Then brick, then glass, then blue plate glass, then whatever funky Austrian or Finnish idea is currently popular.

    Instead of translating the urban landscape into modern forms, it literally “Great projects” itself into self-abnegating monocultures of soul-crushing uniformity, designed to extract the last possible square centimetre of use from every space.

    Contrast with the links I provide re: Urban parks, enforced green space, and nodal cities with very long-term use planning.

    I have no idea how this could translate into an Asian context, but I do know this. The effects of having an overwhelming mass of people in megacities can be mitigated by careful, conscientious planning *on a human scale*.

    Tearing down the charming, often beautiful neighbourhoods of Beijing is both cutting off of the Chinese nose to spite its face and the oblieration of the human soul from the urban landscape. It speaks of efforts at social control and maximizing utility rather than true people-focused needs development.

    • Richard May 20, 2012 at 5:54 pm

      Another good video Steve. Another form of gambling in Korea is the lotetry/lotto which I think is called Bokgwon (복권) maybe a wrong spelling there. I am not sure how popular it is but I think the prizes are nowhere near as big as the lotetry in places like the UK and the US. If the prizes were bigger I’m sure it would be more popular Do you think Koreans should be able to go to casinos more freely in Korea?

  3. Craig April 16, 2012 at 7:38 am

    Oh, and not knocking down the old neighbourhoods.

    Toronto has a large number of neighbourhoods of old Victorian houses on gorgeous tiny tree-lined streets, the Annex being one where I lived, which are historic and charming, though filled with often run-down houses nearing the end of their useful lives (150-200 years is stretching it, even for houses considered well-built at the time). But there were herculean struggles with “new city” urban developers in the 1950’s-1970’s, which saw vast swathes of downtown Toronto saved while the population was booming. Activists stopped the Spadina Expressway, which would have obliterated vast sectors of the downtown core; the Annex was saved from most massive highrise development, and served by transit through streetcars and a few subway stops. Nodal cities developed in the north due to some corrupt patronage, but the result wasn’t so bad: a “Northern Node” in North York that allowed some rationalization of services and concentration for businesses in the suburbs, served by transit. Some efforts failed: Despite some success, the NW corner (Yorkdale) never took off as a true “node”, despite a rudimentary but expansive bus network (GO Transit). Brampton and Mississauga to the west took on too much sprawl, but have learned to some degree and are building up, while the new Greenbelt zones are preventing much development in between. There have been failures and successes.

    The “Island Village” was saved in the 1980’s, after most of the houses on the islands were ploughed under for a park; the presence of the island residents has actually done much to make the park what it is, as weLinks to some alternatives from my own hometown.

    http://rougepark.com/

    http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/article/1161526–rouge-national-urban-park-will-be-a-treasure-for-toronto-and-all-of-canada

    http://greenbelt.ca/

    http://greenbelt.ca/maps/ontarios-greenbelt-20

    Something like this could do a lot to making Beijing a more human place to live.
    here’s a lot less “Sweep of the Pen” action going on, because multiple stakeholders and public opinion have to be taken into account.

    I strongly suspect China will rue this kind of development. In a real sense, they’re both destroying Beijing and creating something new. This can be a good thing, but if it looks at all like what’s been done in the past, I suspect it will turn out not quite joyful.

  4. Craig April 16, 2012 at 7:45 am

    BTW, you just know the tree-lined thoroughfares aren’t going to look like the image. Instead, expect a few forlorn withered trees in concrete boxes allowed to suffer through a demeaning existence, their leaves lost in a surging ocean of concrete washing away any colour the trees attempt to serve the world.

    I never, ever trust architectural landscape illustrations. They’re almost always bald-faced visual lies.

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