When living and working in Beijing, you meet surprisingly few people who are truly Beijing ren - born and raised in the city. Many hail from other parts of the mainland. When you do meet a native, it's not surprising to find they grew up in a hutong - the lane between two courtyards, of which there are large clusters around the city. The hutongs were originally designed in the late 1200s, under the Yuan dynasty, in part to consolidate royal power. The rich got homes near the Forbidden City. But no matter how powerful you were, if the emperor happened to pass by, your one-storey home would ensure you weren't looking down on him. After the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911, the hutongs fell into disrepair. Many became no better than slums. Now, the hutongs are being torn down to make way for modern living and the 2008 Olympics. The destruction of neighbourhoods that have centuries of history has provoked anger among some Chinese, international journalists and expats. Among the Beijing ren, however, few seem to be sad to see them torn down to make way for modern housing. I asked one woman who had grown up in a hutong what she remembered about it. She replied: no electricity, no plumbing, smoky from burning coal in the winter, and cramped space. When asked if she thought the alleys should be torn down, she said: 'Most of them, yes. They should renovate the good ones, but do away with the poor ones.' Many I've talked to - even those not afraid to criticise the government - seem to agree. No one wants to live in squalor for the sake of history. When I mentioned to one man that hutongs were a part of the city's past, he simply said: 'Would you want to live there?' Still, for those still living in even the worst of the hutongs, their destruction is a bitter pill. Yes, they get money to move - but it's not enough to move anywhere close to the city centre. For elderly people who have lived their entire lives in one neighbourhood and have little energy to move or start a new life, the situation is tragic. Taking a stroll through the Wudaoying hutong on a recent hot Saturday, I thought some of the living accommodation did look squalid. There were rank public bathrooms, clothes hanging to dry a few feet from rubbish (for lack of space), and residents living on top of one another. Still, I couldn't help thinking: what about renovation? Why not upgrade the homes, as some agents have done for wealthy buyers? The government is doing that in various areas: 25 neighbourhoods have been earmarked for renovation. But, as the press has reported, at least one of these sites, Qianmen, is already showing signs of destruction. As for the woman I spoke to, she is proud to have grown up in a hutong - and prouder that her children won't have to.