Narrow Alley: What's Old Is New Again in Chengdu

The tiny street known as Narrow Alley was once home to beautiful courtyard homes. Now, it's being de i

Narrow Alley in Chengdu, China, was once home to beautiful courtyard homes. Now, it's being demolished and rebuilt as shops, restaurants and bars. This photo was taken in April. Andrea Hsu/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Andrea Hsu/NPR
The tiny street known as Narrow Alley was once home to beautiful courtyard homes. Now, it's being de

Narrow Alley in Chengdu, China, was once home to beautiful courtyard homes. Now, it's being demolished and rebuilt as shops, restaurants and bars. This photo was taken in April.

Andrea Hsu/NPR
Yu Bo runs a restaurant in the Narrow Alley area. i

Yu Bo runs a restaurant in the Narrow Alley area. His eatery wasn't damaged by the May 12 earthquake, but it's closed because there are no customers. Andrea Hsu/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Andrea Hsu/NPR
Yu Bo runs a restaurant in the Narrow Alley area.

Yu Bo runs a restaurant in the Narrow Alley area. His eatery wasn't damaged by the May 12 earthquake, but it's closed because there are no customers.

Andrea Hsu/NPR
Narrow Alley will eventually be home to a Starbucks. i

Narrow Alley, pictured here in May, will eventually be home to a Starbucks. Andrea Hsu/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Andrea Hsu/NPR
Narrow Alley will eventually be home to a Starbucks.

Narrow Alley, pictured here in May, will eventually be home to a Starbucks.

Andrea Hsu/NPR

Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, is a boom town: Foreign investment from multinationals such as Intel, Motorola and Microsoft has flooded the city.

Despite the fact that the province bore the brunt of the May 12 earthquake, Chengdu itself emerged mostly unscathed.

The city dates back more than 2,000 years to the Han Dynasty — but you have to hunt pretty hard to find any trace of old Chengdu. And if you find something that looks old, it probably isn't.

Take, for instance, the tiny street known as Narrow Alley, which is considered the "beating heart of old Chengdu" — the last remnant of the old city.

The homes that once filled the street have all been torn down. They are being rebuilt in the old style — brick construction, curved, tiled roofs with decorative trim. It all looks very old, but in fact, it's brand new.

The homes are being turned into businesses — shops, restaurants and bars — and the area is being promoted as a tourist attraction.

NPR's Melissa Block and Anthony Kuhn visit Narrow Alley and discuss the impact this kind of redevelopment is having on locals, as well as what seems to be a Chinese preoccupation with newness and a lack of sentimentality about tearing down old buildings.

They also explore how the May 12 earthquake affected the area and talk to a restaurant owner about what the quake has meant for his business and workers.

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