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Policy better blends history, modernity

Guideline strives to protect cultural areas while improving lives of residents

By Yang Feiyue and Xing Yu | China Daily | Updated: 2024-04-03 08:53


History and culture are expected to better integrate with modern life as a new policy aims to step up protection efforts for well-known historical and cultural cities, blocks and streets across the country.

In February, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development and the National Development and Reform Commission jointly promulgated a guideline to upgrade the protection, restoration, local living environment, supporting infrastructure and construction of public cultural facilities of such places, as well as such aspects as fire protection and smart management.

The guideline calls on parties in charge of related projects to ensure their work aligns with the national requirements for the protection and inheritance of historical and cultural heritage; complies with relevant laws, regulations and specific protection plans; and is based on scientific construction plans and designs.

Six principles have been laid out in the document, including architectural conservation, renovation and revitalization; the restoration of historical scenes; and the construction of a dynamic monitoring and management system.

The guide hammers home the importance of using original materials and craftsmanship for the restoration, maintenance and reinforcement of the environment, layout and key components of the historical and traditional architecture that has cultural value.

To date, the country has named 142 historical and cultural cities and more than 1,200 historical and cultural blocks and streets that epitomize the country's rich cultural heritage, profound history and modern appearance, according to the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development.

Zhao Yufeng, associate researcher from the Social Development Research Institute under the Chinese Academy of Macroeconomic Research, said the guideline is specific and would help local governmental departments gain a clear understanding of how to form construction plans for the sites.

"For example, construction of underground pipes and pipeline systems, power transmission and distribution systems, fire protection systems and equipment and dynamic monitoring systems are all listed in the guideline, and specific details are given," Zhao said.

He pointed out that the document has also highlighted overall planning methods and has clarified the priorities of project construction.

It calls for consideration to be given to regional resource endowments, characteristics and influence when determining the content and scale of project construction, Zhao noted.

"The main goal is overall protection and enhancement of historical and cultural cities, blocks and streets, and promoting the integration of the protection and inheritance of historical and cultural heritage with high-quality urban and rural development," he said.

The guideline also frowns upon the large-scale, concentrated demolition of existing buildings in those historical and cultural areas, as well as new mega construction projects that would further strain resources and potentially harm the environment.

Authorities are urged to avoid relocating residents and disrupting the relationship among people, land and culture.

The guideline emphasizes that historical buildings and those with conservation value should neither be arbitrarily relocated or razed nor be left unattended, unused or vacant for extended periods.

Other actions that should be avoided include compromising traditional street layouts by straightening or widening roads, and altering terrains or landscapes by relocating indigenous vegetation or encroaching on river and lake systems, according to the guideline.

Zhao said the regulations will help avoid problems that have occurred in previous historical and cultural site protection and conservation projects.

The national historical and cultural cities system was established in 1982. According to regulations, cities qualify for the designation if they preserve cultural relics and historical buildings; retain traditional layouts and historical features; have served as political, economic, cultural or transportation centers or military strongholds in history; have experienced important historical events; preserve traditional industries that have had a significant impact on the development of the local area; or reflect the unique cultural and ethnic characteristics of their area.

In January 2021, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued a notice on further strengthening the protection of historical buildings and cultural districts to address the slow progress that had been seen in related work in some regions.

The notice aimed to better handle instances of demolition and damage done to the districts and buildings, the theft and sales of architectural components, and the relocation of the buildings.

Later that year, a directive calling for strengthening the protection of well-known historical and cultural cities, towns and villages was included in the country's 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25). Relevant efforts have since been implemented in cultural protection, inheritance and utilization projects by related governmental departments.

The new guideline pays greater attention to scientific protection that paves the way for better preparation and coordination for upcoming upgrades, said Ju Dedong, president of the research branch for the protection and development of historical and cultural cities of the China Academy of Urban Planning and Design.

The guideline integrates the concepts and requirements of protection efforts into various construction activities within historical and cultural cities, blocks and streets, Ju noted.

For instance, in the section on Architectural Conservation and Revitalization, the guideline calls for improving the usability of historical buildings and traditional architecture, conducting interior space renovations, supporting the addition of decorations, and holding exhibitions as important parts of architectural conservation and revitalization.

"This approach is conducive to revitalizing historical buildings and traditional architecture after conservation, making them more adaptable to the needs of modern life and production," Ju said.

Ju emphasized the planning and implementation teams should have top-level qualifications, since they will play a vital role in projects.

He added that since one key aim of the historical and cultural site upgrades is to provide better living environments, local residents should be involved in the construction planning process.

The ultimate goal is to ensure historical heritages are better inherited, environmental quality is significantly improved, vitality in urban development is stimulated and culture is integrated with modern life, thereby better serving the construction of socialist culture with Chinese characteristics and better meeting people's increasingly growing demands for better lives.

Hang Kan, a professor at the School of Archaeology and Museology at Peking University, said that the first aim of historical and cultural cities' protection is to ensure quality development and that it suits the lives of residents.

The guideline has specified a variety of ways to modernize life for residents living in historical and cultural areas, including the development of public spaces, infrastructure service systems, disaster prevention and emergency response mechanisms and public cultural services, said Hang, who has studied ancient sites where contemporary cities have been developed.

"When we develop construction and protection plans for historical and cultural cities, special attention should be paid to historical preservation to provide residents with the opportunity to explore history," the professor said.

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