‘Housing’ is a basic human necessity and has always been a critical subject of discussion around the world. With growing awareness of the gross inequalities created by neoliberal economies, significant attention has been placed recently on the housing conditions of those less privileged and marginalized.
In Beijing, many of those new urban inhabitants have found residency in the traditional Hutong neighborhoods, often replacing locals of their own generation migrating to newer, better served areas around the city. This has led to a concentration of marginalized communities – migrants and the elderly – within Beijing’s Hutong neighborhoods.
The current situation in Dashilar is complex, and often, as soon as solutions are piloted both society and the economy have moved on. Ten years ago the threat was top-down development and urban renewal. Now, social and market forces at a granular level threaten authenticity. Yet, is this simply a threat to “preservation” of the old city, or is it an existential threat to life in the Hutong? Furthermore, how should Dashilar balance its future evolution with the preservation of its heritage and historical identity?
Operating within Beijing’s volatile property market, what Dashilar requires today is a strategy for bottom-up renewal of its residential housing stock that is sustainable, meets the expectations of residents, and does not create conflict. Unfortunately, many of the current discussions and debates are limited by more traditional and quantifiable definitions of informality. We hope that by focusing the debate on a specific case – Dashilar – we can redefine the terms of discourse and create a platform for expanding the discussion around the critical challenges confronting housing in the contemporary city today.