"Beijing’s courtyard homes and hutongs have been disappearing rapidly since China opened its economy in the 1980s, robbing the capital of some of its character," writes Sue-Lin Wong. "In recent years, historians and residents have expressed concern over the razing of hutongs.
But just as threatening to the character of the hutongs are the small-scale construction projects, many of them ad hoc, that sidestep local planning laws and alter the atmosphere of the neighborhoods, say hutong historians and old-time denizens of Beijing.
Beijing’s astronomical housing prices make it tempting for homeowners to build up and out, even though it is illegal to change the exterior appearance of properties in designated heritage zones. The result is a shoddy mess of concrete, plastic awnings and tarpaulins, with an extra few floors or an extension going up in a day or two of surreptitious construction."