Monday, April 12, 2010

Mine tragedies, again

Two mine accidents occurred last week, both in predictable places: Shanxi, China and West Virginia, U.S.A. One of the tragedies, the one in the People's Republic, ended in something of a "miracle," with 115 miners rescued---but still dozens dead. Some good articles on both include an interview in the Global Times with Dave Feickert, the New Zealander who was recently given a friendship award by the Chinese government for his work to reduce mining accidents; a piece in Daily Kos about Massey Energy's wanton disregard for safety; and a comparison between the U.S. and Chinese experiences in In These Times.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Damn! Another wonderful part of Beijing destroyed!

I thought Beijing had slowed down its destruction of hutongs. Then, the city government went and decided to wreck one of my favorite spots in the city, the Drum and Bell Tower hutong, to build an underground mall, so it could make a little more money and so some developer that's all buddy-buddy with some local official can make a killing. Before you rush to say this is an inevitable part of modernizing, consider the following:

1) The cities in the world that people like to visit (rather than visit for purely business reasons) have old parts, and not just a few stand-alone old buildings with museums in them, but tons and tons, blocks and blocks of beautiful old buildings with real character. This is true of Rome, New York, Paris, Valparaiso, and Varanasi alike. Who will want to visit---let alone settle down in---a Beijing that, with the exception of a few tourist sites, looks like a giant shopping center? Not me.

2) The people who make Beijing what it is, the workers and old people and professors and small shopkeepers, are leaving the city center as each hutong is torn down. In their place, yuppies from across the country and world are moving in. Is a crude class transfer like this (mirrored in Manhattan and elsewhere) really something progressives should cheer for? Really?

3) There's a wonderful little bar in the Drum and Bell Tower hutong called Drum and Bell. You can sit on the roof on warm summer weekends and branches from trees tickle your ears and you can hear noises from the hutong below and read a book and eat peanuts. Sucks for that bar.

If you don't want this destruction to continue, consider writing a polite letter to the Beijing Municipal Institute of City Planning here.