Haussman is haunting Beijing. While driving around, we traversed the territory by cab. From within it, Beijing reveals another image; there is the unavoidable largeness of space, buildingblocksbigness and omnipresence of green corridors along its ringroads and inner-city highways. A strange symphony of snapshots -like slowing down and speeding up.
Paris’ 19th century change due to the Haussman-plans is a frequently made comparison in the debate on Beijing’s urban development. To oftentimes it is used to camouflage an in-depth reading of the large spatial transformation that the Chinese capital has been undergoing in the past decades. It feels as if many wish there was a Haussman hidden in the urban change machine, sitting their to be blamed for the city’s contemporary construction culture.
In her book “Republican Beijing: The City and Its Histories, 1911-1937” the scholar Madeleine Yue Dong discusses Beijing during an interesting period, as a transitory moment, a present crushed between the weights of an oppressive traditional past and an unalterable modern future. Relating to that period pulls the Haussman-card as following:
In contrast, late-nineteenth-century Paris witnessed spatial transformations on a large scale. Inspired partly out of fear of the populace, Haussman’s plan for building new avenues in Paris sought to break up centers of insurrection by gaining access to the slums where the working class lived. The result, however, was that in peaceful times the avenues that Haussman constructed became public space, and during revolutions the people built barricades with paving stones to block access by government. In contrast, Beijing’s alleyways and courtyards were left alone unless specific construction projects passed through them. Since cars and streetcars did not enter the small hutong, many of these narrow alleys remained intact. As a result, many streets remained narrow and meandering, and many pockets in the city were left untouched.
Today specific, and also non-specific, construction projects have passed through the whole of the city. Hyper-Haussmannerism.
Pictures by movingcities.org