Local city governments are often accused of sacrificing their cultural and architectural heritage in the blind pursuit of modernization, but Xi'an is taking the radical step of protecting its historic relics with a relocation plan.
Xi'an, the capital of northwest China's Shaanxi Province, is an ancient city renowned for its terracotta warriors and splendid buildings, plans to relocate its administrative centre from the downtown area to the northern suburbs.
Xi'an, with a 3,000-year history of urban construction, was the capital of 13 dynasties. The downtown area, inside the 13.7-kilometer-perimeter city wall built some 600 yeas ago, used to house the imperial palace and the commercial center during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907).
"The relocation will start later this year, together with a project to rebuild ancient palaces and commercial areas," Mayor Sun Qingyun said yesterday at the ongoing session of Xi'an Municipal People's Congress, the local legislature.
The restoration plan aims to preserve ancient buildings, ruins and relics considered non-renewable cultural heritage, and improve urban planning, Sun said.
The relocation, estimated to cost about 50 billion yuan (US$6.17 billion), will be completed in 30 years.
Currently, almost all official organs including the municipal government, the municipal Party committee and the local people's congress are located downtown, which also houses commercial centers and residential buildings, said Guo Zhifeng of the municipal urban planning bureau.
"The present layout of the downtown area is suitable neither for the development of the city nor the preservation of ancient relics. Also, there are traffic jams every day inside the city walls," Guo told China Daily.
According to Zhang Baotong, an expert on socio-economic development who took part in Xi'an's revival plan, cars will be banned in the downtown area within the city walls, and resident numbers will be reduced from 450,000 to 250,000.
The local government will build a satellite town in the eastern suburbs for relocated residents, Wang Jun, director of the new town's construction committee, said.
"It will cover 129 square kilometers and will be purely residential. Factories will be banned from the new town area," Wang said.
Wu Deyuan, a downtown resident, told China Daily after hearing about the relocation plan: "I have been living inside the city walls for 71 years and I am really reluctant to say goodbye to the place. But I understand it is necessary for Xi'an's development."
(China Daily February 17, 2006)