The Beijing government launched a citywide campaign in 2017 to patch up unauthorized modifications to the walls of residential buildings, which were made to allow businesses to operate from such properties. In addition to removing safety hazards, the campaign is aimed at making the city a better capital.
Landlords began converting ground-floor apartments and Beijing’s traditional courtyard homes for private businesses in the 1980s after China launched its reform and opening-up policy. The rent was much cheaper than for commercial spaces.
More than 23,390 sites that had been changed without approval were dealt with by the end of July, according to the city government, which has also warned that new illegal or unauthorized constructions will not be tolerated.
Residents have seen obvious changes in their communities since the campaign was launched.
An apartment building at No 42 Sanlitun South lies at the center of Beijing’s so-called Dirty Street. Tian Liming, who has lived in the area for 50 years, described the small businesses — bars, nail salons and DVD shops — that once inhabited these apartments as aggressive tumors.
“It had reached a point that people weren’t able to see the exterior walls of the building. Residents started to worry the building’s structural integrity was damaged, bringing safety hazards.”
“Soon, the street in front of the residential building was constantly covered in trash, as well as vomit and urine from the people who got drunk in the bars at night. It became smelly and sticky. That’s when people started calling it Dirty Street.”
On April 24, 33 businesses based in apartments with unauthorized modifications had their walls restored to the original design.
Some have said the campaign has resulted in the street losing its glory. But for years, those small businesses, which some visitors treasured, have been a nightmare for residents.
“A friend of mine living in the building called the police five times one night to complain about the loud noise from the bars below,” Tian said.
After the renovation, the people who were forced to move out began to move back. Crime in the street also decreased by a third.
Sanlitun is far from being the only area in which the walls of residential buildings were torn down to make entrances for shops, restaurants and bars. It also happened in the city’s traditional alleyways. Again, these businesses were popular with visitors, but a nuisance to neighbors.
Wei Jiuhong, deputy director of the Xinjiekou subdistrict authority, said it was important to maintain Beijing’s traditional alleyways, known as hutong, during the campaign.
“Some small businesses, like grocery stores and restaurants, have decided to relocate because of the campaign, but it shouldn’t cause residents inconvenience.”
To accommodate people’s needs, more than 3,000 grocery stores, convenience stores and restaurants were built or upgraded by the end of July.