Sustainable renovation

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China Daily, July 7, 2011
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The largest ever renovation of houses built before 1980 in Beijing over the coming five years is an antidote to the long controversial nationwide demolition-construction model of the past decades.

The Beijing government will invest more than 10 billion yuan ($1.5 billion) in consolidating and renovating about 40 million square meters of old buildings constructed before 1980, making them strong enough to resist earthquakes, more energy efficient and updating facilities.

This renovation, according to the plan, will extend the life span of these old buildings, including hospitals, schools, kindergartens, shopping malls and residential buildings, by at least 10 years. The space of an old apartment will increase by 10 sq m and energy intensity will be reduced by two-thirds.

Residents will have to pay for the increased space and updated facilities, but such expenses will be limited - only 3,000 yuan for a square meter of extra space. For those who are living on minimum living allowances, the government will partially or completely exempt them from the expenses.

This is absolutely the right thing for Beijing to do against the backdrop of rampant demolitions nationwide. Repeated reports of structures still sound enough in quality being torn down to make room for new ones point to a squandering of resources and the creation of unnecessary demolition and construction waste.

What is even more disturbing is the conflicts and even social unrest caused by the forced demolitions, which have turned out to be a threat to the social stability the country needs for further development.

Economically, the demolition-construction model is anything but sustainable development, while politically, the forced demolitions undermine the relationship between residents and the government.

The plan raises the question of how a city should be renovated: To replace the old buildings with new ones or consolidate as many old ones as possible to save resources and maintain the old look, which way should we go?

For real estate developers, the more old buildings that are demolished, the more profit they make from sales of new buildings, and of course, if corruption is involved, the more kickbacks corrupt officials receive. As far as the revenue from land sales is concerned, local governments will, of course, prefer tearing down more buildings.

Yet, a government is supposed to serve the people and stick to the principle of sustainable development for the future of this nation. The hearing system and the new State Council regulations on demolition in urban areas is narrowing the space for the abuse of power and pushing local governments to change their concept of urban development.

Beijing's largest renovation plan sets a good example for the rest of the country.

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