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Exhibition Review

New in Old: The 'Urban Renewal'
Thematic Exhibition of the 2019 Beijing Design Week

Plácido González Martínez

College of Architecture and Urban Planning, Tongji University, Shanghai, China


Received December 6, 2019; accepted December 16, 2019.

The use of culture as a motivator of urban regeneration has been a key in urban policies since the 1960s and 1970s, with the paradigm of New York City’s SoHo district as a reference (Zukin 1982). According to the apologists of culture-led (creative-led) strategies, the arrival of cultural activities, entrepreneurs, artists in areas subject to decay gradually boosts the material recovery of the built environment. The progressive establishment of new social relations would consequently confer new life to inner cities, almost in a thaumaturgic way (Florida 2002). Beyond these paradigms, the work of sociologist Sharon Zukin (1982) already revealed how the process in New York City was far from ‘organic’, and followed the entrepreneurial interests of the great fortunes of the city to reactivate the real estate market in derelict areas instead. This showed from a critical perspective the ‘hidden’ dimension of urban heritage renovation, linked to city branding and gentrification.

Policies of urban and rural revitalisation in China have frequently explored this avenue in the last decade. Municipal and district governments found an important legitimation adhering to international networks: the institutional framework that UNESCO gives to these initiatives through the Creative Cities Network has been a key for the proliferation of events since cities like Shanghai or Beijing joined the Network as cities of design in 2010 and 2012 respectively. Whereas in Shanghai the efforts to join culture and revitalisation have mainly focused on the recovery of the former industrial facilities as open spaces along the Huangpu River, the strategy in Beijing has followed a more socially-oriented and complex approach by means of primarily focusing on the intervention in the traditional housing neighbourhoods in the inner city, or hutongs.

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