Bulldozers Meet Historic Chinese Neighborhood

The New York Times reports on the imminent destruction of the ancient Drum and Bell Tower neighborhood of Beijing:

These days, those who reside in the neighborhood known as Gulou are anxiously counting the days until construction crews begin turning its 32 charmingly decrepit acres into a polished tourist attraction called Beijing Time Cultural City.

Anchored by the ancient Drum and Bell Towers, the $73 million redevelopment will include courtyard homes for the rich, a “timekeeping” museum and an underground mall, presumably well stocked with Rolexes and Cartiers — or perhaps their more affordable counterfeit cousins.

Since the project was announced in January, historians have been sounding the alarm. So, too, have the expatriates who cherish the area’s old Beijing authenticity. “When they’re done, the place is going to look like Universal Studios,” said Robin Foo, a Brunei-born Chinese architect who has spent the last six years turning a local Yuan dynasty temple into a swank cafe and catering hall.

But the outrage is harder to find among the thousands of poor families who live in the ramshackle collection of gray brick houses topped with wavy roof tiles. “Tear the whole place down,” said Zhou Meihua, 72, who shares a 20-square-foot pair of rooms with three generations of family members. “If we get enough compensation, we’ll happily move out.”