Controversial Plans To Create “Time Cultural City” Shelved After Beijing Redistricting
Earlier this year, news broke that officials in Beijing’s Dongcheng district were planning to give the Gulou (Drum Tower) hutong a 5 million yuan (US$736,000) “facelift,” which would involve demolishing and rebuilding the neighborhood to create an underground museum known as “Time Cultural City.” Naturally, these plans infuriated many residents, historians and Old Beijing buffs, who worried that Gulou would get the same treatment as the Qianmen area — which received a largely ill-received makeover in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics in 2008 — and lose much of its rustic charm.
However, these Gulou devotees have reason to celebrate this week, with signs that rumors of Gulou’s demise were premature. According to the Global Times, the redistricting effort currently taking place in Beijing — which will reduce the number of city districts in “Old Beijing” (Dongcheng, Chongwen, Xicheng and Xuanwu) from four to two (Dongcheng and Xicheng) — will effectively shelve the Gulou redevelopment plans. From the Global Times:
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.
While the Global Times holds that many Gulou dwellers were supportive of demolition and resettlement, the freeze on any redevelopment plans for the moment is effectively buying time for Beijing preservationists to work on strategies for maintaining the area’s integrity while improving living conditions for residents.
“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.”