Property-led urban redevelopment in contemporary Chinese cities often results in the demolition of many historical buildings and neighbourhoods, invoking criticisms from conservationists. In the case of Beijing, the municipal government produced a series of documents in the early 2000s to implement detailed plans to conserve 25 designated historic areas in the Old City of Beijing. This paper aims to examine the recent socio-economic and spatial changes that took place within government-designated conservation areas, and scrutinise the role of the local state and real estate capital that brought about these changes. Based on recent field visits and semi-structured interviews with local residents and business premises in a case study area, this paper puts forward two main arguments. First, Beijing’s urban conservation policies enabled the intervention of the local state to facilitate revalorisation of dilapidated historic quarters and to release dilapidated courtyard houses on the real estate market. The revalorisation was possible with the participation of a particular type of real estate capital that had interests in the aesthetic value that historic quarters and traditional courtyard houses provided. Second, the paper also argues that economic benefits generated by urban conservation, if any, were shared disproportionately among local residents, and that local residents’ lack of opportunities to ‘voice out’ further consolidated the property-led characteristic of urban conservation, which failed to pay attention to social lives
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