Beijing's changing streetscape (up close)

March 13, 2007 - by Ryan

What's happened to the streets of Beijing? Last time I was here the rows of shop fronts and stalls were so continuous and repetitive that you were always only 20 steps from the closest xiaomaibu convenience stall or magazine stand. Now it seems one needs to get in a taxi just to buy a bottle of Wahaha water, and cross town to get a 25 kuai haircut.

Upon first arriving and noticing the distinct lack of convenience, I assumed that it must only be within the Chaoyang area, but I traveled back to my Haidian haunts and realized that it had also been affected. The only difference I could see was that instead of the Chaoyang apartment complexes and shopping malls, Haidian was full of new governmental buildings and impressively named research institutes.

I assume that the changing streetscape is a conscious effort to clean up the city for the 2008 Olympics as well as just generally resulting from the development occurring. Whatever the cause, I think that Beijing, certainly within the Chaoyang CBD district, needs a return to more frequently located convenience stores - even if we have to swap xiaomaibu for 7/11.

I posted a link last week to a CCTV article regarding the Chaoyang CBD. In that article, a senior urban planner from Chicago, Mr Benet Haller, said the following about the current state of the CBD:

"To me it's not what a central business is all about. It is about density, it's about having a ground level that's very active".

I couldn't agree more. Although he is perhaps more specifically referring to upscale entertainment and dining venues within the CBD, his comments could equally apply to other areas of Beijing and to the nature of development being undertaken here.

Here again is the link to that article:

A good article written back in 2002 takes a few guesses at what would happen to Beijing's xiaomaibu in the future (which is obviously now the present), and you may find it interesting to compare with your own view of Beijing's current streetscape. You can find it at the following link:

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