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Blogging Beijing

The 2008 Summer Olympics will punctuate three decades of development and test China's global legitimacy. They've already transformed the way millions of people think and live. Seattleite and Fulbright researcher Daniel Beekman brings you Beijing.

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April 15, 2008 1:37 AM

Best laid plans

Posted by Daniel Beekman

A flock of construction cranes have swung and dipped here, stirring up dust and monumental structures for seven frantic years. The Bird's Nest. The Water Cube. A new opera house. Rem Koolhaas' bagel-shaped CCTV headquarters. Asia's 23rd tallest building. Since the International Olympic Committee awarded China its first-ever Games, Beijing has recieved a dramatic face-lift.

For a comprehensive glimpse of new Beijing - sans five-hour cab ride - head southeast from Tiananmen Square on Qianmen Dongdajie ('Front Gate East Street'). The city's Urban Planning and Exhibition Center boasts a shockingly accurate, 302-square meter model Beijing.

Breezy and attractive, the center was renovated in 2005. Wings dedicated to transportation, environmental protection, water systems and energy conservation complement the mini-city - a four million yuan (US$482,000) project that took 150 workers 12 months to build).

Don't miss the nine by ten meter Beijing bronze relief on your way upstairs. Historical maps and plans reveal how the capital has grown. Admission is 30 yuan. Ten more and you'll strap on goggles for a 3-D film.

Most visitors to the center head straight for mini-Beijing - 750 times smaller than the real thing. Why is the model so fun and fascinating?

It boasts stunning detail: every office plaza and apartment tower inside the city's Third Ring Road, rendered true to style. A sliver of turf studded with graceful gymnasiums runs north into forest - 2008's Olympic Green. Raised over a blown-up satellite image, the model sprawls where Beijing sprawls, heaves where Beijing heaves.

And yet...The capital's construction sites - absent. Its slap-dab corner stores and midnight kebab stands - missing. Mini-Beijing (the work of urban planners, after all) hints at what could be. Neat, affluent and modern, it's the sort of city Olympic organizers aim for.

In fact, Beijing's urban planners and 2008 organizers are battling traffic, pollution, a water shortage and energy over-consumption. The center approaches each issue separately, emphasizing a set of values that supposedly define Olympic Beijing.

A cartoon music video, poppy and bright, applauds the city's improved commitment to healthy, safe transportation.

Every day and every year/
Traveling for school, work and pleasure/
Beijing transportation is part of our daily life/
Smooth traffic delights everyone/
Harmonized transport is the wish we all share/
Walking is relaxing/
Cycling is good for exercise/
Traveling by car is, of course, most comfortable/
Riding the bus is money-saving/
You can get anywhere on Beijing's well-executed transport network/
More roads, bus lanes/
Preserving the hutongs as our precious heritage/
And the speedy, comfortable BRT, another accomplishment/
Metro trains carry us all upwards to the ground/

Beijing is my home/
Oh, my Beijing is developing/
Harmonized transport is becoming another symbol of Beijing/
Beijing is changing every day/
For the year 2008/
Harmonized transport will be another name-card of my Beijing/

I bought a car and made more money than before/
But it was really annoying that gas prices have been rising ever since/
It's wise to take public transport on weekdays/
Saving money and the environment/
Use my private car on weekends, when I go shopping or driving/
Most important when going out is traffic safety/
Speeding, overloading, driving drunk/
A fluke coupled by improper operation might bring you your end any minute/
Beijing's green skyline is based on environmental protection/
So take care of your car's emissions, use unleaded gas and new energies/
Change your habits/
Transport is developing fast/
Running red lights and jumping fences is really bad conduct/
Jumping the queue while driving might save you a few seconds/
But it'll be really embarrassing when your kid says "Dad, bad driving!"

Posters warn against polluted water and tick off measures intended to 'green' Beijing.

According to one notice: "Clean energy will be used in a larger scale," "traffic pollution control further strengthened," "coal-based small boilers in urban areas retrofitted," "more stringent vehicle emissions standards implemented," "construction of wastewater treatment and recycling plants accelerated," "aquatic environmental management strengthened," "90 percent of urban sewage treated" and "afforestation carried out."

"During the 2008 Olympic Games," the notice promises, "the indicators of major atmospheric pollutants will meet World Health Organization guidelines."

Nearby, wall charts follow Beijing's waterways. Glass cases display efficient bulbs and clap-on lights. On the center's top floor, an Olympic exhibit includes scale models of the nearly completed National Stadium and the recently finished National Aquatic Center - nicknamed Bird's Nest and Water Cube.

"My personal opinion of the designs?" laughed a Qinghua University architecture student from Jiangsu province. "Too controversial. I'd rather not get in trouble. Today's my first as a volunteer here."

Best laid plans aside, Beijing remains a city in flux. Fittingly, the center itself is under construction. Migrant workers in yellow hard hats have thrown up a new facade.

"I've lived in Beijing a year," remarked one man, originally from Henan province. "This place we're working on? I've never been inside."


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