I spent the past weekend back in Dazhalan and Xianyukou, the two ancient neighborhoods whose daily life – and destruction – form the setting and plot of The Last Days of Old Beijing. Remarkably, the district government and its affiliated development company invited a team of 25 Urban Land Institute planners and architects to advise on how to regenerate what to this point has been a failed project. The team included the man behind the rebirth of London’s Covent Garden, the woman who oversaw Singapore’s Changi Terminal 3, and the former mayor of Pittsburgh who steered the construction of our beautiful river trails and ballpark.
Half of my former home is now a chain hotel, and the residents evicted. Much of Dazhalan remains intact, while immediately to its east the formerly vibrant hutong neighborhood of Xianyukou is a field of rubble. Still, I left the capital optimistic about its rebirth, provided the developer chooses to rebuild a community, instead of an anodyne destination.