Beijing Hutongs: National Holidays

After exploring Tiantan Park, I wandered through some of the small streets just north of the park. The street pattern in Beijing is basically large through streets set fairly widely apart, and large city blocks of small alleys and little streets in between. Far fewer cars, and it’s mostly on the little streets that people live. These are called Hutongs (translates as lane or alley), and on them you see aspects of Beijing you’re less likely to see on the big streets. With urban renewal going on and the city preparing for the 2008 Olymic Games, many of the old streets and houses are being bulldozed to make way for newer buildings. The critics — which seem to include most of the Westerners I speak to, who claim it’s only in the Hutongs that you see the “soul” of the city — say Beijing is losing its character. Others – myself included – note that the new buildings will likely have better plumbing(meaning residents won’t need to walk down the street — in winter, even — to the odorific public toilet), and probably be somewhat cleaner and better built in general. Yes indeed, Beijing is losing some of what used to define it as a city…but isn’t that the nature of cities since the industrial revolution? And how can I, at heart still a New Yorker, criticize Beijing when I think of all the great and historic buildings we tore down in the 50s, 60s and 70s? In honor of the fact that it’s the national holidays here (anniversary of the founding of the PRC), I’m kicking off with a patriotic shot of a flag and plants on the roof of a small hut. Then you’ll see shots of blankets hung out to dry — it was such a clear day I guess everyone thought it was a good day to air out the laundry before winter socks in. After these, you’ll see shots of urban renewal in my own neighborhood, where the Hutong buildings are already being marked for destruction.

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