I am reading Michael Meyer’s The Last Days of Old Beijing which is an excellent journal about the death and life of a traditional Beijing hutong, which is a narrow lane of courtyard houses. I was reading about how the planners and developers considered these areas slums even though they functioned extremely well and served more as incubators of improvement and socialization than harbingers of decay. Yet a crime and statistics that “proved” the area was overcrowded were enough to mark it for demolition.
As Meyer described it, I thought immediately of Jane Jacobs Death and Life of Great American Cities and the story of Boston’s North End, which was statistically a slum but visibly NOT. I only had to turn the page and Meyer told of Herbert Gans’ 1959 article on Boston’s North End and Jacobs’ coverage of the same subject and her wonderful term for what was happening in these traditional “stable, low-rent areas:” Unslumming. Continue Reading