The streets of contemporary Chinese cities can essentially be categorized according to three types that have roots in imperial history. First are avenues (dajie) that originated in the planning of ancient administrative centres, where they usually formed a grid oriented to the cardinal points of the compass. They are predominantly broad, tree-lined and laid out at large intervals between expansive residential, industrial or administrative compounds and concentrated markets, with little street-front activity. Often they include generous bicycle lanes, separated by medians from the automobile lanes. Historically, they served as governmental processional space, and such modern avenues as Chang’an jie in Beijing continue to play this role. A second type of main street, characteristic especially of south China, is the commercial street lined with shophouses, which in many of those cities with migrant ties to Southeast Asia includes arcade-sidewalks.
Finally, there are the residential lanes (xiang, hutong or long) which provide direct access to individual dwellings, though most housing built since 1949 has taken the form of residential districts (xiaoqu) of apartment blocks. Reform-era transformations have focused on increasing commercial space and accommodating heavier traffic (see transportation patterns (urban); urban planning/renewal), usually by widening existing streets (which pedestrians increasingly cross via overpasses), but also by driving new streets through old blocks. Two new street types are the dedicated pedestrian street (e.g. Nanjing Road in Shanghai and Wangfujing in Beijing, see shopping malls) and the consciously historic ‘tourist street’ (luyoujie) which are often the core of historic restoration districts (see restoration districts (urban)).
Heng, Chye Kiang (1999). Cities of Aristocrats and Bureaucrats: The Development of Medieval Chinese Cityscapes. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.
Yang, Dongping (1995). Chengshi jifeng: Bejiing he Shanghai de wenhua jingshen [Urban Monsoon: The Cultural Spirit of Beijing and Shanghai]. Shanghai: Dongfang Chubanshe.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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