Our Beijing studio comes to an end, as the project teams presented the outcomes of their fieldwork at Tsinghua University to an enthusiastic audience. Our course will be continuing over remote collaboration for the next ten weeks as part of the International Urbanization Seminar. Stay tuned for future developments as we continue to refine our projects!
Transportation: The Modern Day Hutong
Friday started a little desperately: we weren't sure what kind of survey style would provide the most insight; we couldn't agree on the most time-efficient way to maximize information yield. After a bit of debate, we settled on the exact street our capstone presentation would be displayed on -- Tieshu Byway, which morphed into Dashilan West Street, and lastly Dashilan Commercial Street -- as our research destination, and off we went.
Our first plan of attack was to conduct a broad survey of the space, so we decided to count how many stationary vehicles were present in a 10-minute walk of the byway. After deciding on a particular intersection to start the count -- right next to a restaurant called 欣悅 -- we walked down the street, noting the position -- left vs right -- the vehicle was parked on the street and wrote down abbreviations roughly corresponding to their location on the street. After 10 minutes, we stopped right next to a boy's bathroom, as it was a good pinpoint location. We found bikes to be the majority, even discounting the giant row that a bike rental shop simply left on the side of the road. Do the bikes not get rained on or lose value when dust settles on them? Curious.
We also did a stationary count of vehicles and pedestrians that passed by in a 30-minute interval, as displayed in the pie chart above. We see an overwhelming majority of pedestrians, with electric vehicles a close second.
Afterwards, we stationed ourselves next to a particularly congested portion of the street -- in front of Alice's Tea House -- and videotaped cars trying to pass through this human-created bottleneck. We struck up a conversation with the shop owner, who went on to give a brief lesson in Chinese history, describe the horrible driving conditions through this particular hutong, and suggest ways to improve car usage in Beijing. We also spotted two foreigners taking pictures of us further down the road, so we decided to approach and ask for their opinion. This turned out to be a gold mine, as the foreigners had lived in Beijing for 25 years each; one was a translator, the other worked as a contractor in the private sector. They produced a unique spin on the narrative: the story of someone who was once foreign but have since now assimilated into the culture.
This morning, we set out to try the Cognitive Mapping strategy. As most people we approached and interviewed refused to try drawing a map, we made a sketch based on the verbal description of a particular old woman sitting on the steps outside her house. We also realized, through subsequent interviews, that people didn't move much along the hutong space. Most either commuted to this hutong to work or lived behind their shop and walked out only to use the bathroom or buy groceries.
Advice to people wanting to replicate the study: people sometimes give you answers to questions you haven't even thought of asking. Our attempt to widen our questioning strategy helped a surprising amount today.
Our class and teaching team traveled across Beijing to visit the Energy Foundation China offices today, where we met with Dr. Kevin Mo, Buildings Program Director. Dr. Mo has generously agreed to serve as one of the advisers for the hutong residential energy usage team and will continue to stay involved with the seminar in the months to come.
Take a Whiff: This miniature hutong turned out to be teeming with a rather bizarre, oddly non-combinatory mixture of smells. I felt like an overly curious puppy as I walked down the street, turning my face sharply from one store to another to reconcile each smell with a particular item or person.
In My Shoes: In this part I just kept my eyes on an old lady who was walking along the river, with a stick as well as an umbrella in her hands. I spent quite a time to figure out the reason of her visit. She walked so slowly, had a hard time geting through the steep incline of the beidge and did not give much notice to others. But finally I found out she was there to buy some stuff becaus she stopped at several shops at the time she passed by. I would like to believe she is going to buy some souvenirs for her grand-children of her friends. So you can never be sure that a place like HouHai will definitely deter any groups of people. And a public place cannot get embrassed about the vist of an unexpected visitor.
Tick Tock: In this part I just focused on a narrow bridge, which plays an important in traffic of the whole place. It lies acroos the river and serves all the cars, bikes, rickshas and people. We watched and observed the traffic through it and saw some unpleasant moment: Like a ricksha almost hit a bike comes through the bridge, from other side of the river. Like a car drove through the bridge and splashed some water on the people who were standing on the side of the bridge and taking pictures. In a word, the bridge seems to be an efficient route connect the both sides of the water but lack of design and management.
What's Your Stance?: At 4:29 PM on a hutong off of Dashilar Street, my group and I stumbled upon a mini park. On a trapezoidal plot of land formed by the fork of two diverging roads was a small sunken paved area. To my surprise, four large groups of 4-8 elderly men, 28 in total, gathered around tables playing games of Chinese chess. They crowded around the tables they set up, half standing and gesturing loudly to the game. The other half sat in chairs they brought along or on the steps formed by the sunken nature of the plaza. I stood on the corner and observed the environment and their posture for 6 minutes. No other people walked through the plaza—everyone left the old men to their enthusiastic games. The men leaned over or onto the boards, reached across their tables, and gently shoved others standing near them to point to a suggested move. Electric bikes and younger (middle-aged) pedestrians dominated the ~4 person per 30 second rate of traffic around the plaza. The traffic and commotion of shop keepers marketing their goods on the adjacent roads made the street a somewhat busy space, yet this plaza was a refuge for the elderly men of the area—what a pleasant oasis of community gathering we stumbled upon that afternoon.
This park was pleasant evidence of how urban planning can foster a community. A much needed clearing amongst the dense hutong of the area provided a meeting place for community members to enjoy favorite pastimes. While I’m not sure if the lack of diversity of occupants of the park is a positive of negative feature for the community, the park did seem to create a refuge for the elderly men.
We welcomed our guest speaker Yang Jiang from the China Sustainable Transportation Center to discuss case studies of developing robust and healthy transportation systems in Copenhagen and Chongqing, China. Mr. Jiang will continue to serve as a technical advisor for the City of Cycles and hutong transportation ecosystem projects.
Today, we welcomed our community partners Clean Air Asia to the Stanford Center to deliver a guest lecture about their organization's work and current directions for their air quality education work. Dr. Fu Lu and Qiuxia Wang will be providing guidance to the Clean Air Campaign group as they refine their project deliverables in the next three months.
Students made use of "human-centered" toolkits for observing public spaces. We had first piloted these toolkits with our students from the Stanford d.school in San Francisco. We then customized the toolkits for Beijing, updating them with some wonderful help from Linda Ly.
The class was divided into team projects, and everyone set off to explore the city using the following urban observation techniques: