Urban landscape devastated by willful planning

By Jelly Liu Source:Global Times Published: 2016-1-18 23:48:01

I read an article on your newspaper the other day arguing that urban design should not count on government's whim. The author pointed out that officials' capriciousness in urban planning has resulted in a recent spate of demolitions of relatively new buildings. I totally agree with the author that Chinese urban design is far from perfect.

In fact, the newly-constructed buildings are not the only victims. A number of cultural relics in China have been demolished as well. While Thailand is famous for temples, Rome for its cathedrals, and Spain for its palaces, little unique Chinese architecture has survived the last century. This is a shame. In most Chinese cities, urban landscapes are all the same - row upon rows of high-rise buildings. Hutong (alleys), siheyuan (courtyard houses) and many other forms of traditional architecture have been replaced by skyscrapers.

Admittedly, urbanization has made people's life much easier. Yet the monotonous urban landscapes only reflect the poor aesthetic judgments of local authorities. More creativity should be displayed in urban design. Besides, buildings are historical fossils, where a nation's culture and characteristics are engraved on. Local officials have shown no respect for their own heritage. Buildings are concentrations of Chinese civilization. These beautiful and unique constructions could have survived if local governments respected history.

The author argues that capricious officials are driven by GDP and money to order demolitions. It is true that rebuilding is an effective way to create GDP "growth." A city always suffers from a swathe of demolitions when it gets a new leader. It is an appalling waste of money that Chinese buildings, which have consumed nearly half of global steel and cement, often stand for less than three decades. To address this problem, citizens' interests should carry more weight than GDP in judging officials' political achievements. Blindly running after GDP numbers may sometimes bring burdens, rather than benefits, to people.

Some cash-thirsty governments dismantle buildings for money. Restrictions should be put in place to regulate local officials' behaviors. It may be helpful to set the service life of buildings before construction. Unless the building poses potential safety threats, any attempt to dismantle the well-functioning building should be punished. As part of transparent administration, experts' opinions need to be made public during the urban planning process. Local authorities have to be stopped from willfully demolishing newly-constructed buildings.

Citizens could play a more active role in the political decision-making process. It seems that residents are indifferent to politics. Used to capricious governmental policies, citizens are numb to the constant construction on the streets. People need to be aware that they can participate in the governmental decision-making process. Urban planning is closely linked to ordinary life.

A number of factors have contributed to the current ravaged state of urban landscape in China. Unique cultural relics have been replaced by row upon row of monotonous skyscrapers in urbanization. Local officials should learn to respect history and take aesthetics into account in urban planning.

Restrictive measures need to be applied to the cash-thirsty governments, which capriciously demolish for GDP growth and money from land sales. Residents' participation in the decision-making process will make the Chinese urban landscape better as well.

Jelly Liu is a freelance writer based in Beijing.

Posted in: Letters

blog comments powered by Disqus