Since writing about the chaos brought on the street by February’s great swath of workers and accompanying security guard here. The street has carried on its path of “beautification” or gentrification with Chinese characteristics. The street as a whole has lost character and that certain buzz generated as passers by are unable to see the activity going on inside a restaurant due to their bricked up exterior.
The ugly brick exterior has now been plastered over, and grey, Hutong-like tiles have been put on the outside of the row of buildings. The slick feature is replicated all up the street. It is uniform and a little tourist like.
The biggest casualty has of course been the small businesses that have not being able to welcome customers off the street. Some have left a window open and bricks outside to climb up to the small entry hole to lean in and make an order. Others have pointed customers to their shop back entrance. Others have ceased to exist. That said an indoor market place has welcomed in some of these street vendors including my favourite frut seller and that area is more lively.
The Hutong ‘beautification’ project has been the story of Beijing 2017 so far, the move has been cited to be a political one. The new Mayor who came in during February was under clear instructions from Xi Jinping to make the city international, remove it of its untidiness and make it safer to live.
It is the migrant workforce who makes up 35% of the city’s population that have lost out and had to be relocated. This mass dispersement of people also corresponds in the Government plan to expand Beijing in creating the mega city of Jing-Jin- Ji- this 110 million mega city that is meant to encompass Beijing, TianJin and the province of Hebei.
It can also be seen as an economic policy. These small businesses do contribute 35% of the city’s revenue, yet they only make up 7.5% of the tax. Replacing them with large chains can help provide them with that extra source of income for the local government.
On the most part, the local Beijing people are quite satisfied. The migrants leaving the city create extra space for them to take back the Hutongs. The project is meant to restore cultural values to the Hutong- only time will tell if this is the case or if it is another advertised policy with a sinister undertone.
A good story that has come out of it, from a purely selfish point of view, is the relocation of Israeli popular food chain, Moxi Moxi. Once a beacon of FangJia Hutong- as I rode back home last night I saw it beginning to set up shop just 200 metres from my house. Bring on the Falafel diet!
So overall, this project has made me realise the true unexpected force of the government. They really give its citizens no notice at all, and very little reason before diving into remaking the city. There is little scope for organic growth here and a development of a business has to really fall in line with the government’s vision.