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Interview with Zhou Rong of Tsinghua University|Utopian urban governance behind the transformation of Beijing Bar Street


Recently, topics such as the retreat of the Sanlitun Bar Street in Beijing, the resumption of commercial placement, the relocation of the Tongzhou City Sub-center, and the construction of the Tongsan District have continued to attract public attention. Although there are various relationships between people and cities all the time,

Recently, topics such as the retreat of the Sanlitun Bar Street in Beijing, the resumption of commercial placement, the relocation of the Tongzhou City Sub-center, and the construction of the Tongsan District have continued to attract public attention.

Although there are various relationships between people and cities all the time, few people seriously think about: what is promoting the prosperity of cities?

What is missing from our understanding of cities?

What is the essential relationship between people and cities?

What price have we paid in the constant pursuit of urbanization?

Although the relevant debates gradually subsided after a period of turmoil, it is still necessary to continue to discuss the long-standing problems and long-standing problems in the process of urban governance in China, as well as how to move towards modernization.

The reporter of "Hong Kong 01" interviewed Zhou Rong, an associate professor at the School of Architecture of Tsinghua University. In the face of China's rapid urbanization, Zhou Rong has been committed to sorting out and dissecting the hidden thoughts behind it from multiple perspectives such as politics, economy, culture, and history. Resources, development context and internal logic, he opposes the grand, transcendental, perfect, and timeless utopian city model, and advocates a bottom-up, complex collage, and diverse inclusive and growth urban organization model.

Representative works include "Critical Prospect of China's Contemporary "Re-urbanization" Process", "Deciphering Beijing--The Past and Present of a Utopian City" and so on.

Hong Kong 01: The

Beijing Municipal Development and Reform Commission and the Municipal Bureau of Commerce jointly released the "Implementation Plan for Cleaning Up Hidden Barriers and Optimizing the Consumption and Business Environment" on January 30, proposing 51 reform tasks to break through the pain points, including standardizing outside the business circle Put business and so on.

In response to the business direction of Beijing's commercial swings, relevant departments further clarified on the 31st that commercial swings are not "street stalls" and mainly meet the needs of the masses for leisure and quality consumption.

Previously, there were many controversies surrounding whether Beijing was suitable for the street-stall economy.

A commentary article published by "Beijing Daily" bluntly stated that "the street stall economy is not suitable for Beijing". The reason given is that different cities have different development contexts, development stages, development requirements and specific conditions. Whether the "street stall economy" is suitable for a city , to make judgments and choices based on the positioning of the city.

On this issue, we must insist on starting from our own reality and not blindly follow the trend.

Beijing is the capital of the country, and the image of Beijing represents the image of the capital and the image of the country.

As the country's first super-large city with reduced development, it has its own functional positioning and management requirements.

Doing a good job in fine urban governance with the first good standard means that Beijing must pay attention to maintaining the order that the city should have, and should not and cannot develop economic formats that do not conform to the strategic positioning of the capital city and are not conducive to creating a harmonious and livable environment.

From this point of view, Beijing places more emphasis on order. What do you think of the statement that "the street stall economy is not suitable for Beijing"?

Is it really not suitable?

Street stalls are common across China.

(Use authorized by The Bund)

Zhou Rong: Whether

it is suitable or not depends on what kind of concept we regard Beijing as a unified geographical concept. I think what the Beijing Daily said makes sense.

But Beijing is actually a fairly large administrative division. It not only has these urban areas in the city, but also some suburban districts and counties, such as Daxing, Pinggu, and Yanqing, including the current Tongzhou, which has a fairly large area.

For those that represent the image of Beijing, such as the central area of ​​the city, based on the image of the capital and the country, it is necessary not to develop the street stall economy, or to properly control it, but it is not possible to directly assert that the entire Beijing is not suitable for the street stall economy .

You must know that the current cities are very different from the cities in the past. They are all super-large cities. The official data of Beijing is 23 million people. The level is uneven, so the demand is not one-size-fits-all, including space.

If the policy is aimed at the 23 million people in Beijing, or the more than 10,000 square kilometers under an administrative division like Beijing, I think the government's governance capacity needs to be improved.

Hong Kong 01:

"Beijing Daily" mentioned two concepts, one is "fine management" and the other is "order".

Delicate management actually means that it cannot be simply one size fits all, and order is more considered from the political dimension rather than the people's livelihood dimension.

Delicate management and one-size-fits-all, people's livelihood and order should not be binary oppositions, but why do such dual paradoxes often appear in the process of urban governance?

Where is the crux?

Zhou Rong:

Our city managers often have a "utopia complex" in their minds. This utopia is a unitary, very single and pure ideal city model.

But in fact, our cities, especially super-large cities like Beijing, are unprecedentedly complex, and the ecology also has very rich layers, which is difficult to describe with a simple and unified ideal model.

The reason why the current urban governance often has problems reflects to some extent that our officials' vision for the city in their minds and their understanding of the city model are too simplified and simple. He does not realize that a simplified spatial model is very It is difficult to accommodate such an extremely rich, delicate, diverse and vivid level of 23 million people.

So I think that for a relatively small and single city, maybe the "Utopia model" is more effective, but for a super complex and super large city, this model is often ineffective, and it will cause a particularly intense conflict with reality. confrontation.

Small vendors outside SOHO, Taikoo Li, Sanlitun, Beijing.

(Hong Kong 01)

When it comes to Beijing specifically, I think Beijing must realize that such a city does not only have a single function as a so-called capital, nor does it only serve as a single international image, it still needs to accommodate people's livelihood. The bottom layer of the number, which is the base of Beijing.

For this base, allowing the street stall economy is to give them a basic sense of security, and there is still a way out of life, because setting up street stalls is the path with the lowest cost and self-reliance.

Because of the epidemic, the emotions of the whole society have become very sensitive and fragile. Under such circumstances, being able to give them a thought, a hope, and an outlet for catharsis has far greater practical significance than economic benefits.

In other words, the street-stall economy may not be able to boost GDP to a large extent, but allowing street-stalls at least gives the city a hope of inclusiveness. For the silent and invisible majority at the bottom of the city, this is a hope.

A city can't just blindly develop upwards and strive towards a particularly refined and noble direction, it should also spread downwards.

A good city not only has high-end, representative, and landmark places and architectural symbols, but also allows different classes and ethnic groups to have the possibility to live and work in peace and contentment.

If a city only serves a few layers in the rich layer, or even only serves a very small number of layers, thus sacrificing the majority, it is not a good city, but a very rough, monotonous, and even relatively reactionary city .

Hong Kong 01:

You mentioned refinement and nobility, which makes people think of the recent renovation of Sanlitun Bar Street.

Li Keqiang also mentioned during his previous inspection in Yantai, Shandong, that the street stall economy and small store economy are important sources of employment. Such "fireworks" are the vitality of China, just like "tallness".

That's what you said, both upwards and downwards.

However, under the influence of the "utopian complex", that is, under the "elite logic" that people often say, it is often considered that the high and the high are ignored.

Some people believe that there is an institutional background behind the logic of "elites". The system determines the decision-making mechanism of officials.

For example, if a government official wants to get promoted, if he wants to be promoted within three years, he has to work hard.

Be sure to do projects that can be seen by superiors.

What kind of project can the superior leaders see?

Work done underground is generally invisible.

What can be seen will have an eyeball effect.

What do you think of the "elite" logic of urban governance?

Given that the power of discourse and decision-making is bound to be in the hands of the elite, does it mean that there is no way for urban governance to escape such a "utopian complex" or "elite logic"?

Beijing Sanlitun Taikoo Li.

(Hong Kong 01)

Zhou Rong:

In fact, elite logic and utopian vision are very consistent. They are a set of things, and there are some basic assumptions in this set of things.

Elites often have resource advantages in all aspects or at least in many important aspects, or they are well-born, or well-educated, or have good resources as support, and can maximize benefits in society. This is traditionally our Think elite.

I am not against elites, but I am against those elites who are extremely self-interested, for example, only from their own perspective, or from the perspective of the elite class, lack of sympathy for other disadvantaged classes, this is a big problem in China today.

When it comes to urban governance, I still want to say that a good urban structure can allow different ethnic groups and different classes to settle in their respective positions. The biggest problem for elites is that they feel that their ideals and their utopian power are the whole city. The common ideal of all groups, this is a very crude logic.

A healthy society should allow many people. We don’t talk about his background and resource constraints. Do you allow some people to not work as hard as the elites and yearn for a high life like the elites? Being content with the status quo, he just wants to live a very ordinary life, and he feels very happy. Do you allow him to do this?

I think this is the biggest key, which is to allow some alien power. Are such people qualified to live in the same city as you?

Confucius said "Do not do to others what you do not want to be done to you", but you can actually add "Do not do to others what you want to do to others." Elites like tall, clean, and highly orderly cities, but for For disadvantaged groups, they may also have a vision of an ideal city, not necessarily tall, but full of fireworks and suitable for their living needs.

But often, the voices of disadvantaged groups are hard to be heard, and urban governance has been developing according to the logic of elites.

The problem here is that our city lacks a consultation mechanism, especially the lack of mutual understanding, mutual sympathy and mutual recognition between different classes of ethnic groups. Once this mechanism is missing, you will find that the powerful groups in the city can unscrupulously promote their own The will, according to a so-called "ideal blueprint", does not hesitate to sacrifice the interests of others, and does not hesitate to suppress other voices to achieve the standard of a unified blueprint.

Of course, urban governance under the logic of elites may not necessarily be malicious at first, but the means to achieve utopia are often too cruel and too brutal, making utopia itself a particularly evil and cruel machine that starts from the goal of perfection and moves towards the goal of perfection.

I think what we should discuss is whether our city has a negotiation mechanism that can accommodate different voices and different appeals. This is the most important thing.

Hong Kong 01:

Is the "negotiation mechanism" you mentioned an impossible utopia?

Although China has a political tradition of "negotiation," when it comes to urban governance, it is difficult to achieve real negotiation. In the end, it can only operate according to the logic of the elite.

Beijing Sanlitun Taikoo Li.

(Hong Kong 01)

Zhou Rong:

The so-called consultation mechanism is stipulated in the Constitution, and the function of the CPPCC lies in this.

When it comes to urban governance, it’s not about overthrowing the existing system and creating another one, because this itself is a mechanism that exists within the existing system, but it may have been ignored for a long time.

For example, encouraging street stalls or banning street stalls, there have always been street stalls, and people often say that there are peddlers.

Looking at it now, no matter whether it is to ban or encourage street stalls, there has not been a necessary argumentation and hearing process. If it is banned, it will be banned, and if it is released, it will be released.

Urban governance is a comprehensive social governance, which is a great test of the government's governance ability. Coupled with the impact of the epidemic, the city has become an unprecedentedly complex giant system, which tests the government's comprehensive governance ability.

Faced with such a situation, how can we balance principle and flexibility? One size fits all is the laziest and simplest approach. I stipulate that no one person can do it, so there is no need for specific analysis of specific issues.

In fact, how to analyze specific issues in detail, Beijing can be more humane. For example, it can be said exactly which areas are not allowed to set up stalls, which areas are allowed to set up stalls at certain times, and certain areas are specially designed for people to set up stalls. The key to urban fairs is to make this problem detailed, and to conduct flexible management for different objects and different regions. This is the original intention of refined management.

Looking at the fine-grained management mentioned by the "Beijing Daily", it is actually changing the concept secretly. Simply saying that "the street stall economy is not suitable for Beijing" is not fine management, but refined management, that is to say, the so-called rough street stalls and markets etc. are excluded.

The real refinement should be aimed at different objects and areas, making the originally dirty and messy stalls refined, and solving the problem of "order".

Hong Kong 01:

We now often talk about the modernization of the national governance system and governance capabilities. Specifically, urban governance also requires the modernization of systems and capabilities.

On March 10, 2020, during his inspection tour in Wuhan, Hubei Province, Xi Jinping emphasized that "it is necessary to focus on improving the urban governance system and the urban and rural grassroots governance system, establish the awareness of "full-cycle management", and strive to explore new ways of modern governance in megacities."

Compared with other countries, what are the outstanding problems in urban governance in China?

How far is it from real modernization?

What should city managers reflect on from the epidemic?

There is a view that China's urbanization is excessive and excessive. What do you think of this?

Zhou Rong:

It’s hard to say exactly how far it will go. After all, there is not only one template for urban development.

However, the essence of the city is that different groups of people gather together in high density and live together.

Before the 20th century, there were very few cities with a population of more than 10 million, but now a city can easily have a population of 10 million, 20 million, or even 30 million. It's really hard for managers.

As I said earlier, how to deal with problems flexibly without losing principle is indeed a big test.

As for the outstanding problem you mentioned, I think a basic concept of the government needs to be improved, that is, cities are not for the minority, and do not exist to satisfy the political ideas and aesthetic tastes of the minority, but should be cities for all. Find the greatest common divisor.

If the greatest common divisor cannot be found, is it possible to allow the city to have a unified picture, and is it possible to allow the existence of the richness and diversity of the city?

Beijing Sanlitun Bar Street.

(Hong Kong 01)

For urban governance, what we need to learn is how to be tolerant, sympathetic, and release the greatest degree of goodwill. This is very important.

Because the vast majority of urban people have no way out. They are not as big a deal as the migrant workers who went to the city in the past. They can’t go back to the countryside. The city is the last place to live. So if a city does not have enough goodwill, in such a In an increasingly difficult living environment, it is difficult for people to have a sense of gain and happiness.

And this happiness is something that every city and every citizen can truly experience, not the kind of happiness that is instilled and explained.

Hong Kong 01:

When it comes to the question of whether the city has enough goodwill, it is easy to think of Beijing's clean-up of the so-called "low-end population" a few years ago. This incident has indeed hurt many people.

Even looking back now, it's hard to understand the logic behind this cleanup.

Or, more precisely, it's hard to imagine such a cleanup taking place in Beijing.

Zhou Rong: When

discussing this issue, we should try our best to avoid the trap of sensitive discourse. The so-called low-end population, and there is no official document that calls for cleaning up the low-end population, but everyone calls it that.

In a social pyramid structure, or an inverted trapezoidal structure, the low-end population (let’s call it that) is actually a very important base for the normal operation of the entire society. Stablize.

In fact, after the low-end population was cleared at the end of 2017, it caused a huge impact on various enterprises and organizations in Beijing. The most prominent manifestation is that the cost of labor has become very high.


Because in the past, the average salary of these so-called low-end population was not high. What they did was not a high-tech job, and it was not a job that required special competitiveness. For example, the design company I learned about, some piecemeal finishing work, etc. , Hiring people with a monthly salary of 3,000 yuan can be done, but when these people are eliminated, the company can only find people with a monthly salary of 15,000 yuan to do it, but in fact the job content itself has not changed much.

In November 2017, after the fire broke out in Beijing Daxing, officials began to move some low-end industries and even employees out of Beijing.

This incident was dubbed by the media as "cleaning up the low-end population" and sparked controversy.

(Multidimensional News)

In addition, the so-called low-end population does not mean that it will disappear after it is cleaned up.

If a city has no low-end population, it is terrible, because the city instantly becomes a city without flow and vitality.

If you look at it from a dynamic perspective, these so-called low-end population, including the Beijing drifters you just mentioned, may not have fixed assets or real estate now, but maybe they will make great contributions to the city in a few years High-end population, as long as there is an upward channel, they can provide fresh blood for the city.

I think it is difficult for a city's fresh blood to be generated in the so-called high-end population. In fact, it needs a large amount of continuous delivery from the bottom to the top. This is a healthy mechanism.

Just like a tree, if you pull out the root and cut it off, no matter how beautiful the top is, it will not last long. This is a very simple truth.

At that time, it was said that 3 million North Drifters were expelled. Perhaps this was what some elites wanted to see, but I think the real feeling of most people was the inconvenience of life and the loss of urban vitality.

It depends on what our city governors value more, whether they value face or the long-term development of the city.

Hong Kong 01:

An article "From Spatial Evolution to Spatial Variation: Beware of the "Detroitization" of Contemporary Chinese Cities" by Hu Daping of Nanjing University a few years ago has recently attracted attention.

Hu Daping took Nanjing's urban governance as an example, and further pointed out that we need to be vigilant against the "alienation" of urban space, especially in the context of most cities in China trying to obtain competitive advantages through urban management, we should look at the existing Business routines to avoid blind social engineering and movement-style governance causing the doom of an "abandoned capital" like Detroit in the United States.

From the perspective of spatial form, the development of contemporary cities breaks away from the evolutionary model and presents a variational model.

Mutation, it may be the way for human beings to open up a new realm, and it may also put human beings in chaos, disorder, uncertainty, risk and crisis.

Variability thus constitutes a central issue in today's discussions of urban vitality.

What do you think of the "abandoned capital" phenomenon and the issue of urban vitality mentioned here?

Zhou Rong:

I haven't read the article you mentioned. It would be dangerous to comment rashly.

The vitality I mentioned refers more to the mechanism of urban vitality.

For individuals, it actually depends on whether the person has a kind of ambition in this city and whether he has the energy to keep tossing.

Because in the so-called high-end crowd, this kind of vitality is being lost.

Although the low-end population contributes insignificantly to a city's GDP, it contributes a large proportion to the city's vitality, which cannot be measured by money or numbers.

Hong Kong 01:

In addition to the loss of urban vitality, people are also discussing a concept, that is, "disappearance of neighborhood".

Before urbanization, China may have been a society of acquaintances based on the original rural pattern and traditional culture, but with the rapid urbanization, it gradually became a society of strangers, coupled with the information revolution and technological revolution, This situation is exacerbated.

So, is the disappearance of the neighborhood, from the society of acquaintances to the society of strangers, the disappearance of the rural pattern, the price that must be paid in the process of urbanization?

Zhou Rong:

You mean the "disappearance of the neighborhood" that Mr. Xiang Biao talked about.

Hong Kong 01:


Zhou Rong:

The disappearance of the neighborhood does not only refer to the society of acquaintances.

Let’s just say that in China, such as Beijing, the foundation of its acquaintance society has been greatly impacted by the arrival of the commodity economy.

Because the commodity economy will inevitably accelerate the flow within the city, and the former acquaintance society is solid and immobile, and the social class is relatively fixed, born in an alley, and died in this alley.

After the reform and opening up, the society has entered a period of great transformation, and the original social organization and spatial structure have undergone great changes. Once demolished, the original neighbors do not know where they are allocated, and the small street shops that they used to go to have disappeared. Familiar things have changed, and the whole city is becoming strange, not only between people, but also the whole city is changing with each passing day, everything is unfamiliar, and everyone has no name. In fact, this is the disappearance of the name, not the nearby disappear.

During the epidemic, not only the relationship between strangers has become torn apart, but also the relationship between acquaintances is facing great challenges.

(Getty Images)

According to my understanding, the disappearance of the neighborhood is a bit more complicated, and it also includes the Internet society and the high degree of media communication. The attraction to you from the concrete and tangible spaces and things around you.

So slowly, people become more concerned about things in the distance, while ignoring things around and nearby.

For example, when racist conflicts and demonstrations occurred in the United States, people no longer paid attention to the epidemic happening around them, but were more willing to pay attention to "Black Lives Matter".

But what do these demonstrations and riots have to do with us?

The United States and China are separated by the Pacific Ocean, which is a very local thing in the United States.

But when people project their experiences onto things that are far away, you do find that the near disappears.

Hong Kong 01:

In the end, I still want to go back to the three-year epidemic.

Wuhan, Hubei, where the epidemic first broke out, is a megacity.

Taking this epidemic as an opportunity for reflection, what are the inspirations for urban governance?

Zhou Rong:

I think our city's system is still relatively weak, and in fact it only maintains a minimum balance.

Some cities just look like a modern city, but there are still many places inside that have not kept up.

For example, the self-government ability of the community is actually quite weak. Usually relying on the neighborhood committee is very effective under normal circumstances, but once encountering a situation like the epidemic, relying on the neighborhood committee to solve the supply of food, water, and medicine for thousands of people in a community will be difficult. Become stretched and especially passive.

That's why some temporary organizations appeared at this time, some community owners' groups, discussing grocery shopping, group buying, etc., and even looking for hospitals through temporary WeChat groups, the neighborhood committees can't control them at all, this is the prototype of autonomous organizations.

Community autonomy like this is relatively mature in some developed countries. For urban governance in China, social autonomy should be consciously normalized and strengthened, which is of great significance for responding to emergencies.

The second inspiration for us from the epidemic is that sometimes urban problems do not need to be judged too quickly.

For example, two years ago, the slogan was raised from top to bottom to tear down the walls and open up the community. Looking at it now, I should be glad that I did not do so, because once the community becomes open and there is no wall, the entire city closure operation will be very inconvenient and difficult. There is no way to manage.

Look at cities in the United States and Europe, even if the government wants to manage them, there is no material means to guarantee them, because the communities are directly facing the streets, how to manage them?

It is impossible to close the entire street, the cost is too high.

Although the management of closed communities in China is simple and rough, it is particularly effective. This is two sides.

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Source: hk1

All news articles on 2023-02-07

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