‘The High Price of the New Beijing‘ by Ian Johnson was just published in The New York Review of Books. In the piece, he assesses about six books on Beijing 北京 – all dealing with urban planning, art, destruction, architecture and urban renewal. A must read.
We’re reporting from Xi’an 西安 and on an encounter with local residents.
MovingCities has been covering the ceaseless self-destruction of Chinese cities here before: in the Beijing 北京 Hutong Histories-triptych [ 1, 2 & 3], by way of following the French artivist JR in Shanghai 上海 or by showing the destruction of the 1950s five story high housing blocks in Chengde 承德.
From the hotel room one could easily witness the horror, recognize the pattern, know what to expect. One knows when districts are dusty, in the process of being destroyed, when communities need to be cleaned up. Nonetheless, strolling over the stones, along fenced off facades, little shops and sledgehammers, the feeling of a grim future never disappears. Deep in the alley, voices emerges, signs made, billboards uncovered. The natural pull of people, the last residents of a ruined neighborhood.
Municipalities sell the land to developers, use part of the proceeds to pay the poor to move to remote suburbs, and use the balance to fund their operations. According to a recent estimate, 76 percent of urban funding is accounted for this way.8 This means that governments have an interest in expelling the poor and paying them as little as possible. Recently, authorities have pledged to pay evictees market prices but without controls on their decisions, it is hard to have confidence that such promises will be kept.
It is here that one understands what building can be about: blood, bullying and backroom deals.
Pictures by movingcities.org