Beijing undergoes face-lift

Updated 2017-07-21 09:49:58 Global Times

City to get rid of low-end businesses, illegal construction

The city of Beijing is undertaking a massive urban face-lift, aimed at making the Chinese capital and adjacent urban areas into a harmonious, livable world-class metropolis.

City authorities are finally tackling urban problems like overcrowding and ad hoc and illegal construction which has plagued Beijing after decades of fast development and urbanization, experts said.

Beijing municipal government in January released a plan to renew downtown districts, which aimed to crack down on illegal constructions, upgrade old neighborhoods, renovate core streets, improve public services and transform shantytowns.

Beijing will demolish over 40 million square meters of illegal buildings by the end of 2017, along 100 core streets, in hutong (traditional alleys) and neighborhoods. It aims to "return the roads to the people" - a better street environment, smoother traffic and more suitable roads for pedestrians.

Some municipal offices and functions will be relocated from downtown Beijing to the suburban Tongzhou district, to make room for the capital resources.

Beijing's renewal project, together with the sub-center Tongzhou district and Xiongan New Area in the adjacent Hebei Province, will see the capital realize a "one body and two wings" strategic layout and further prompt the integrated development of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei (BTH) region and the construction of Beijing as the core of the world-class city cluster, Lian Yuming, head of the International Institute for Urban Development of Beijing, told the Global Times.

China announced in April the establishment of the Xiongan New Area, as part of measures to advance the coordinated development of the BTH region.

Lian said the BTH region will also benefit from the city cluster and further lead the development of the Circum-Bohai Sea Region and Northeast Asian region. "The competitiveness of the BTH in the Asia-Pacific region, and even globally, will be enhanced."

The drive also dovetails with the government's policy to make Beijing a first-class international metropolis which is harmonious and livable, according to a draft of the Beijing Overall Plan 2016-2030 released in March. Beijing authorities approved the plan and agreed to submit it to the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council for approval.

Beijing main districts' four functions will be made clear, respectively serving political, cultural, international communication and scientific innovation functions. Lian said that a "central political zone" in the city center is expected to be set up in order to strengthen its core function of the capital.

"The old, central districts of Dongcheng and Xicheng are home to government offices and also contain much of the city's historic cultural spots, and these can support their economies," he noted.

Dongcheng and Xicheng districts are the core of ancient Beijing, where diverse cultures are flourishing, both traditional and modern, Lian said. "The cultural protection committees from the two districts are expected to be combined, transforming the areas into a foundation for Beijing to become a first-class international metropolis."

Holes in the wall

According to Beijing's annual plan, a total of 15,600 illegal businesses operating in the first floor of residential apartment buildings and from holes in the wall within Beijing's central six districts will be demolished, which experts said will solve overcrowding and congestion problems.

Since those illegal buildings are mostly used by small businesses, "the move will result in a smaller percentage of low-end businesses in Beijing," Sheng Guangyao, a research fellow at the Institute for Urban and Environmental Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Thursday.

Sheng said Beijing in the meantime wants to attract high-end talent to the city which will in turn attract innovative industries.

Sheng condemned a recent report by The New York Times, which said the goal of Beijing's urban upgrade plan is to rid the capital of migrant workers who have made important contributions to its economic boom.

"The management of low-end businesses and the inflow of the migrants are two different issues. Migrants are important factors to measure the development and vitality of the city," Sheng said.

New, government-sanctioned shops and services will be opened around residential communities in place of the illegal small businesses, according to the 2016-2030 plan.

Beijing intends to cap the city's population at 23 million by 2020, although the number of permanent residents already reached 21 million by 2016. Though the move is not intended to kick migrants out of the city, "it will leave people who work in low-end industries out of jobs," Niu Fengrui, a research fellow with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.

The development plan also set goals to increase greenery in the city. Beijing's Party secretary Cai Qi said in June that Beijing's forested area will increase by 42 percent, and the per capita area of parks will increase to over 16 square meters. In order to realize the goal, two green zones will be built around the city, and more than 100 suburban parks will be constructed as well, said Deng Naiping, head of the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Landscape and Forestry.

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