Friday, June 26, 2015

Beijing government to move: at last? - Ian Johnson

Ian Johnson
Ian Johnson
The Beijing municipal government now seems serious about leaving the old city center and move to the suburbs, a very old plan. For the New York Times journalist Ian Johnson dives into the history of the plans. Most reactions are mildly positive.  

Ian Johnson:
For decades, moving government offices outside Beijing has been a taboo subject. In the 1950s, a prominent architect and urban planner, Liang Sicheng, proposed building an administrative center outside the old city. The idea, however, was rejected by Communist China’s first leader, Mao Zedong, and his associates as running against the revolution. Instead, they put national ministries and the urban administration of their capital in the old city, purposefully using palaces and parks to symbolize the Communists’ overturning of the old order. 
Over the years, however, this has meant the destruction of the old city, as alleys, temples, city walls and old buildings were torn down for an ever-expanding bureaucracy.
“The move is ironic given that earlier planners advocated something similar in the 1950s,” said Thomas Hahn, a geographer and historian of urban China affiliated with the University of California, Berkeley. “They were outmaneuvered, which eventually led to the wholesale gutting of the traditional urban core.” 
The exact details have not been released, but some published reports say the city’s Communist Party headquarters, as well as several other political committees, could move to Lucheng, a part of Tongzhou where a subway connection to the inner city recently opened. 
Local government websites have publicized new orders not to construct buildings on the land. Those also state that local residents would be reclassified from rural residents to urban ones, which would end farming on the land and allow for more intensive construction. 
Officials at several Beijing offices refused to confirm or deny the plans. Speaking anonymously, however, numerous officials said the move was definite and could be announced on the National Day holiday on Oct. 1. A senior official with the city’s Bureau of Industry and Commerce said that his office received a notice from his superiors last month to prepare for the move, but that it would take years to complete.
According to Zhang Wuming, a researcher at the Fangtang Think Tank in Beijing, which specializes in urban and cultural issues, the plan would leave the core part of the city home only to central government ministries. 
“The idea is to strengthen the function of Beijing as the capital, which means that Beijing should serve the central organs more efficiently,” Mr. Zhang said. “If the Beijing government can move to Tongzhou, it actually can better manage the city from there.”
More in the New York Times.

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