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New History on Liede Ave

August 8, 2012

Hunter Lane and Xian Village, New History on Liede Avenue

 

(English Translation of article published in Guangzhou News Express 8/8/2012)

Click Here for Chinese Article

One of the most majestic views of Guangzhou is walking over the Lide bridge in the evening. The Guangzhou Tower is lit up across the river from the IFC building in Zhujiang New Town. Guangzhou is an ultra-modern city, it’s hard for visitors to understand that that Guangzhou dates back to the Han, Zhou, and Sui Dynasties, with over nearly 1500 of international trade. Guangzhou could qualify as ancient, but really it’s one of the most modern cities in the world.

China’s strong sense of economic growth and weak sense of tangible heritage creates a demand for history people can see. Lie Ren Fang, also known as Hunter Lane is one of several new developments to fill that demand.

Just next to the Liede Bridge. A new strip of Lingnan style villas, ornamented with colorful plaster and clay roofs, giving the impression of a historic district. Only this is new.

Can something new brand new be historic?

The style is traditional, but there is no local culture. It’s a strip of high priced foreign bars and cafes like Restaurant Francias, with an expensive French menu and Water under the bridge with latin dancing on Friday nights. One shop I walked into sold 800 RMB bottles of wine.

“It’s from Australia.” The seller informed me standing uncomfortably close, as the other workers giggled practicing English phrases.

Lie Ren Fang is built for tourists with more money than culture. People who felt their stay at the Garden Hotel was not authentically Chinese, can sit at one of these overpriced cafés, look at the architecture and live out a fantasy of China in their mind.

Some could argue that this is fake history I call it creative history.

Lie Ren Fang is worth a visit, but it’s more important to walk one block north past the construction of high rises and see the demolition of Xian Village.

 

Xian Village is an actual village being demolished just one block away. Though not as picturesque, it is genuine; and reflects an important moment in time. To enter Xian Village you must show work ID or residence permit. The photos I’ve taken are from across the street.

Outside the walls of demolition are migrant workers recycling the building materials separating the wood, metal, and tile. It’s an amazing process, these buildings are not literally recycled, nothing wasted. Many owners are still in a process of negotiating payment from the government. This works well for owners but not renters.

This routine is nothing new. We saw this in Pazhou village, Zhu village, and Yangji village. This is why history is sometimes a fantasy. Young people understand that the neighborhood they grew up in will quickly be gone.

Compensation for property,chai qian拆迁, is more important than the property itself. This is unique, and a huge generational gap. Young adults born in the 90s face higher inflation, higher cost of living, and more competition than children born in the 80s or 70s could would have imagined.

Overall, Guangzhou has improved in recent years, but it’s only improved for people who can afford it. In preparation for the 2010 Asian Games, Guangzhou became tremendously more efficient. The 5 metro connecting to Foshan, the fast train to Changsha, the BRT, and brilliantly new structures like the Guangzhou Opera House and the Guangdong Museum have had a positive effect on the city. Even the air quality has improved. Now the challenge is for Guangzhou is to create sustainable development, for long lasting middle income communities.

A better alternative to demolishing villages is to restore and improve them.

Good examples of restoration are the City Walls from the Ming Dynasty, the Haizhu Bridge, and Goella’s restoration of 255 Beijing Road, the restoration of the Aiqing building, Changji Road, Shamien Island and Huangpu Village. These show more integrity than new villas made to look old.

Protecting and reusing a structure is also cost effective.

Empty factory buildings in Haizhu District, Nanzhou, and Panyu can be converted into middle and low income housing blocks. Along with older row houses with beautiful Xiguan design.

Photo by George McKibbens 2012

 

This is a better solution than building high rises that only a few people can live in. With a 40% drop in housing sales after 2011 there is no guarantee that in 2 years developments of Liede, Pazhou Island, or Yangji will actually have people living in them.

That’s why so many new buildings stay empty. They’re only for the rich.

The two Satellite Cities of Zhengchen and Conghua are more affordable, but too far from any resources. New suburbs like Guangzhou Knowledge City have inferior transportation and create the need to own a car. Suburbs isolate people, and disconnect cities.

As manufacturing jobs move overseas and to less developed areas of the country, Guangzhou’s cultural tourism should compete with it’s retail tourism. More promotion and accessibility to places like the Huangpu Military Academy, Huisheng Mosque, or Nanyue Kingdom will build a stronger sense of heritage. A restoration of Xiguan buildings like the ones on Erning road and Qing Ping road are better than creating an imaginary history like the villas of Lie Ren Fang.

For too long Guangzhou’s tourism has been focused events like the Canton Fair which send a message that Guangzhou is only a place to manufacture cheap goods. Guangzhou’s history should not be a manufactured, but something real people can live in and grow old in.

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