Experts fear style of hutong 'restoration'

By Yan Shuang Source:Global Times Published: 2012-2-3 0:20:00

The Bell Tower seen from Zhonglouwan Hutong Thursday. The alley is one of the many in the Drum and Bell Tower area facing an uncertain fate as authorities present its city revamping plans. Photo: Guo Yingguang/GT


Some 60 siheyuan (courtyard houses) near the Drum and Bell Towers in Dongcheng district are allegedly slated for demolition for a "style restoration project" of the surrounding area, including the expansion of a square.

Architects and cultural heritage protection experts raised objections, as local government released notices for house expropriation in surrounding hutong before the Spring Festival holiday.

"I know many siheyuan will be demolished for a government project, including the expansion of the Drum and Bell Tower Square," said a local man in his 70s, surnamed Gao, who lives in Doufuchi Hutong to the north of the Bell Tower. People from the local house administration authority came to his house before the holiday, looked around, and asked about the size of the house and number of tenants, said Gao.

Houses will be expropriated at Doufuchi Hutong to the north, Gulouxi Dajie to the south, and those at both sides of Zhonglouwan Hutong. Five hutong are involved in the plan, according to the notice released by the House Expropriation Office with Dongcheng district government on December 1 last year. The notices were posted before the holiday, said Gao, who added: "I won't say no to the demolition unless the government doesn't compensate or have a relocation plan for us."

According to a previous statement by the district's cultural authorities, rumors about an extensive demolition of the Drum and Bell Tower area are untrue and the government will do everything to preserve the area's original style and cultural heritage. The surrounding environment and historic look of the towers has been seriously damaged, said the statement, and the square between the two towers has been occupied by illegal construction, contracting to less than 4,000 square meters from the original 14,000 square meters.

Residents there are living in crowded conditions and many of their houses are old and dangerous. The plan aims to remove illegal structures, regulate traffic in the area and improve resident's living conditions by providing basic facilities such as gas pipes, the statement reveals.

"Those siheyuan shouldn't be demolished for the sake of preservation of Beijing as a historic and cultural city," said Hua Xinmin, hutong protector and land property rights expert. Most importantly, the house expropriation could be illegal since many tenants there are not the owners, she told the Global Times

Neither the Dongcheng House Expropriation Office or the district's House Management Bureau could be reached for comment Thursday.

Zhao Junming, a media officer with the district government, said the plan is to restore the area to how it looked in the Ming and Qing Dynasties.

"Don't buy crap from those who don't know the truth," said Zhao, "it's not just about expropriation and demolition," he said, adding the official notices did not mention demolition.

The area is on Beijing's central axis, for which an application was made to UNESCO for listing as a World Cultural Heritage site. The area southeast of the towers, previously filled with siheyuan and hutong, was demolished two years ago to make room for the now aborted "Beijing Time Cultural City" project, which was extensively criticized by cultural heritage experts in 2010. The latest plan calls for a smaller Time Museum on the site.

"The public needs the government to be transparent about their work, no matter if it's demolition or house expropriation," said architect and writer Fang Zhenning, explaining that government should release detailed plans for the square expansion, along with a blueprint for how the area will look, instead of some unclear notices.

The name and contacts of the project's contractor and design company should also be made public for supervision in case of any illegal construction or demolition, he said.

"If the government continues doing this, the same as they did at Qianmen, it could lead to a bad influence nationwide, that cultural heritage could be torn into pieces so easily," he remarked.


Posted in: Society, Metro Beijing

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