I have just read a paper by Zhang et al. on the reproduction of consumer spaces as applied to the historic districts of Beijing city centre. It took its cue from theories around the social construction of space for touristic purposes, and further considered the historical development of that space over an extended period. Using some detailed property use analysis, the researchers considered statistically the differing concentrations which developed in the different historic districts of tourism-focused versus resident-focused businesses.
I will freely admit that some of the equations and graphs were beyond me, but the analytical commentary was clearly expressed, and the study showed the importance of looking at the intersection of different capital flows in urban historic districts with the influences of differing types of authority (i.e. control) on development. This in turn affects the agency of residents and behaviour of consumers which in a feedback loop affects the ongoing management and development (and indeed control) of those historic areas.
So what – all very obvious? Maybe, but having recently spent time over in workshops with colleagues thinking about climate vulnerability in Edinburgh’s World Heritage designated area, the paper got me thinking again about how different types of capital (beyond just money) ebbs and flows around the different and distinct historic ‘districts’ of Edinburgh’s WHS and where different types of authority and control are exerted, felt and influenced. Further, it got me wondering how does agency of resident and consumers change across those different districts as a result of those flows of capital, and what are the longer term implications for the city as a result?
Reference: Keer Zhang, Handuo Deng, Fang Wang & Ye Yuan (2021) Reproduction of consumer spaces and historic district touristification in Old Beijing City, Tourism Geographies, DOI: 10.1080/14616688.2021.1934724
There are tantalising glimpses of the remains of the Ming Dynasty city walls around the modern centre of Beijing. Some parts have been adapted and built up against, whilst some like this section are backdrops to tiny pocket parks, which provide much needed green space in a frenetic city. Often you have to take a moment to work out what you are looking at, as not all sections have interpretation panels (though many do, like this one). The sections provide intimate glimpses into the long history of settlement and the ever-present role of history and a deeply valued cultural story. They are used heavily as spaces for rest for workers from nearby offices and recreation space for flat dwellers in the vicinity who have little green space access otherwise.
Just along from our current hotel in the centre of Beijing, is Ritan Park, situated in the Jianguomenwai area very close to the British Embassy. The park is one of the oldest in Beijing, dating from 1530 and was built as a temple to the sun god.Chinese emperors would make ritual offerings at the central altar.It was a place of worship for the Chinese imperial court of the Qing (1644-1911) and Ming (1368-1644) dynasties.On a previous visit to the park, I watched a live action reinterpretation of the ceremonies in the central reconstructed ritual area. This seemed to involve local school children, all decked out in period costume with relevant accessories – what a memorable history field trip and doubt successful at reinforcing cultural identity and history!
Given the park’s centrality in a densely packed city, it has been re-designated as a Health and Wellbeing facility, with many exercise, walking and activity stations, as well as perimeter paths laid out with distance benchmarks for fitness and recreation measurement.
There is a comprehensive interpretation and orientation scheme through the park, with plenty of signage to inform and amuse this Western eye which is slightly obsessed with signage as my #heritagesigns tweets regularly suggest.