Changes and Survival Strategies seen in Local Redevelopment and the Way of Life of Low-income Residents of Beijing

published: 2017-06-01 Japanese:日本語版へ

Along with conducting research on poverty policy in Japan, and welfare policy in particular, I have also studied the lives of low-income residents and the poverty policies of several foreign countries.

On this occasion, I stayed in Beijing from February 25th to March 2nd, 2017. I visited large, aging housing estates that had been slated for demolition and redevelopment several years earlier, and with the aid of an interpreter surveyed residents about their thoughts and strategies for dealing with this situation.

Living "hútòng" - not a tourism resource

Housing estates built in the 1950s and 1960s in Beijing that still exist today are very different from typical reinforced concrete housing estates that are common in Japan. They are formed around small streets or alleyways called "hútòng". Several numbers of "Hútòng" have been preserved in Beijing as tourist resources, but the housing estate buildings that I visited are living ones. The buildings are row houses ("nagaya" in Japanese) made of wood, tin, bricks, and stone blocks. Each family's living space is either one roughly eleven square meter room or two rooms roughly five and eight square meters in size. Toilets are communal and located outside of these rooms.

Originated from the urbanization of Beijing

Trace of illegal construction : A trace of illegally constructed part of a dwelling. After removement, former interior wall is exposed.On this trip, I visited an old housing block that extended about two hundred meters on each side and had been constructed in the early 1960s. Damaged buildings and roads had been repeatedly repaired by the residents, and the scenery of the whole neighborhood reminded me a patched clothing.

According to the residents, roughly 40% of them are descendants of people who lived in an area known as Beijing's most prominent downtown neighborhood. In the 1960s plans for the large-scale redevelopment of that area were put forward, so these residents moved to housing estates prepared by Beijing city, and ever since, have been living with their family.

Another 40% are the descendants of people who came to Beijing from outlying areas in the mid-1960s to work on the construction of nearby large-scale public facilities and moved into housing estates prepared by the city. The residents have a lot in common with Japanese low-income residents that "Urban development unavoidably made moving to a different area" and "people came to the city from rural areas as a labor force for urban development". While we saw many of first-generation residents those who are now in their seventies, eighties and nineties, it was difficult to communicate with them directly because of their hearing loss and senile dementia.

The last 20% were people not officially registered as residents of Beijing. These were relatively young people in their twenties or thirties living alone or with their parents.

What are their occupation or means of obtaining income?

Second-generation residents who moved into the housing block with their parents when they were children and who are now in their sixties and seventies live on old-age pensions, and look after their grandchildren during the day.

Most of the members of the third generation have jobs outside of the housing estates, and there are several suits-wearing business people who come home for lunch in the middle of the day. Others have opened business like grocery stores, restaurants and computer shops serve the block. Some leases small part of their own dwelling. In the very small part, people may live in, and there seems to be parents in a different district who want to use the resident registration to send their children to good school around the area.

Most of those who come from outlying areas do miscellaneous urban jobs, such as peddling aluminum balloons, dealing with junk, and selling breakfast from stalls. The aluminum balloons, carried aloft in the air, have what seem to be famous Disney or Sanrio characters printed on them at a glance. These characters that subtly, and at times boldly, evoke a sense of "something being off," gave me the feeling that they themselves had chosen mimicry as a survival strategy.

Redevelopment plans was forced to transform – what effects does this have?

Outdoor kitchen : An outside kitchen. There is a small sink in the left of the white cabinet, and there is a homemade dried meat above the sink.This housing estates was supposed to be torn down and redeveloped in 2017. Several places for the residents of relocation had been prepared in the suburbs of Beijing. According to the residents, there are a few people who have already received compensation and moved. As a result of changes in the city's financial circumstances, however, it became difficult to secure the funds needed to relocate all of the residents and wholly redeveloping.

Today, in all areas of Beijing, plans are progressing to tear down illegally constructed parts of aging housing estates and at the same time enact measures such as street beautification and sewer maintenance. Street beautification and prevention of illegal construction are conducted simultaneously; illegal additions constructed such that they stick out slightly from the eaves into the street are destroyed, roads are repaired, and flower beds are installed by the side of the road where illegal construction is likely to be carried out. The area's image of "poverty" will be weakened, and those living in illegally constructed rooms will be evicted. I want to call it "gentle gentrification."

This plan will no doubt improve the living environment of the housing block as a whole. Low-income residents will experience better housing, and some of them will presumably come to demand homes of an even higher standard. What will this lead to next in a city like Beijing, in which housing costs are soaring?

Going forward I hope to continue visiting this area periodically to examine how situations shift.

MIWA Yoshiko

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This research achievement was financially supported by the research fund "international research activities," a support system for enhancing the research quality of young researchers of the Research Center for Ars Vivendi in the academic year 2016.

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