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Bulldozed for Olympic splendour

April 29, 2008

By Jill Drew, The Washington Post

"Are we going to host the Olympic Games this way?" a woman shouted. "To
force civilians to move away?"


Su Xiangyu realised his house would be the next to face the bulldozer
when a beefy man pulled up a crate and sat down near Su’s front door.
The man didn’t say anything. Just sat and smoked. Watched Su and waited.

“He showed up after Wang Lianmin’s house was demolished,” said Su,
squinting as he scanned the field of dirt and rubble that used to be a
community of more than 550 families.

Su, Wang and another neighbour were the last three holdouts to fight for
their families’ homes against developers who own rights to this land,
just across the street from the main Olympic park in Beijing. The three
have now been forced to join the thousands of people whose homes have
been ploughed under in the rush of Olympics-related construction over
the past seven years.

Less than four months before the Summer Games open, the forced
relocations in Beijing are highlighting another cost of the Olympics.
Whole neighbourhoods have been wiped out. Especially controversial has
been the destruction of about 800 of the city’s 1,200 hutongs, lanes
full of traditional, courtyard-style houses.

Beijing real estate prices are soaring, but residents are often blocked
from realising the full value of their homes when the government orders
them out. Many complain that compensation levels set by authorities are
far below market rates, making it impossible for them to find comparable
housing elsewhere.

Su fought in the courts for more than three years after he and his
neighbours received their first demolition notices on March 7, 2005. He
refused to accept the developer’s settlement offer even after most of
the others had done so. By the end of 2006, only 12 families were left
in what was once Yangshan Village. One by one, their houses began to be
demolished.

The neighbourhood had become a construction zone, and things were
starting to feel unsafe. On April 1, the water was cut off. Su had lost
again in court, but he did not want to give up. He visited his
great-grandfather’s grave, seeking a sign.

Then, on April 17, Su watched as Wang and his family were forced from
their home. Then a demolition crew, backed by 30 police officers and
guards, razed the house.

Later that day, Su found the silent visitor on his doorstep. He agreed
to settle and began moving out. The bulldozer arrived the next day.

Beijing’s North Star group, which owns the rights to develop the land,
has designated the area around Su’s home as a future park, part of a
luxury “green home” project. The company is one of the main developers
in Beijing’s Chaoyang district, where most of the Olympic venues have
been built.

Meanwhile, luxury apartments on sale in the area go for the equivalent
of roughly $270 per square foot. The final village holdout, Sun
Yongliang, is being offered $57.

Zheng Minzhi, an official in the Chaoyang Housing Administrative
Department, said the district has approved a forced demolition permit
for Sun’s house.

The next day, in Guanxizhuang Village, across Forest Park, a few people
did fight back when workers arrived to demolish their run-down brick
homes, not far from the Olympic Green National Tennis Centre. A Chaoyang
district official said that the government wants to build grasslands and
playgrounds there and that the villagers would be compensated.

A man and a woman tried to protect one home by throwing bricks at guards
trying to grab them from their roof, but they were tackled, bound and
taken away. A handful of police, backed by dozens of hired guards,
municipal officials and a demolition crew, kept 200 or so villagers at
bay and attempted to block photos of the confrontations. One villager
who tried to film the events was dragged off.

“Are we going to host the Olympic Games this way?” a woman shouted. “To
force civilians to move away?”
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