Does Beijing Need to Slow Down ? – urban imagery vs true reality

 Just after the Olympics, Iron demand, steel output and oil imports all continued to increase at double digit annual rates. 1 million people are moving from the countryside to the cities each month, the oil prices which rose to almost 10 percent since 2008 which have led to shortages of fuel and electricity, and China stock markets have crashed over the past year. Shanghai stock exchange fell 53 percent at the end of 2008. Unsold automobile inventories rose 50 percent to a four year high in June 2008. Foster (2008:55).

1) introduction to Beijing

The writing begins with the introduction of the Beijing old city planning, development reality behind Olympic 2008, and situation after that. To describe Beijing in simple word is not easy. It has an amazing fabric, planning hierarchy principle based on class hierarchy principle. Rose also stated the city is practically a diagram of imperial china’s coherent and comprehensive idea statement… it is a succession of concentric quadrangles. Rose (2008:8). It’s a well integrated city with grid planning and courtyard housing which was built in 3 different dynasties.
The mountain Area southwest of Beijing was the home of Peking man some 500,000 years ago. In the 11th century B.C. became Jicheng (the city of Ji). It was the capital of the state of Yan of the Warring States period (475-221 B.C.). The city grew and in the mid 12th century. The Jin Dynasty made it its capital calling it Zhong Du (central capital). A century later it was made the Yuan dynasty capital of Kublai Khan, who named it Dadu (Great Capital). In the early 15th century the Ming dynasty rebuilt the city and named it Beijing (northern capital). Yongqing (1980:4).2954192396_8940331e5f_o


Image1Figure 1 Beijing Historical Milestone Source Wu (1999:4)

Wu in his book Rehabilitating the old city of Beijing explained that Beijing is different than most of its predecessors, which perished at the end of the dynasties in which they were created, Beijing evolved through the last three dynasties of the Yuan, Ming, and Qing. It has become the ultimate example of ancient Chinese city planning. Liangyong (1999:3). Paris as a comparison with Beijing in figure 1 on the page 2 can be seen as a small portion of Beijing. While from 800 until 1800 Beijing hasn’t grown so drastically. Wu stated that Beijing was the largest city in the world in the period between AD 1450 and 1899 in terms of population size (except during the period between AD1650 and 1700, when Constantinople overtook it by a small margin. Liangyong (1999:4) It shows that Beijing has a rich and complex urban growth that is been existed for 2000 years.

In 1978, London times correspondent David Bonavia pictured Beijing as a monotonous socialist city, lacking in vice and urban life. Twenty-six years later, Chinese blues singer and writer Liu Sola pints the chaotic landscape of an alienated megalopolis… in the swirl of global consumerism. Broudehoux (2008:1). In 2008 when the Olympic was happening in Beijing, it consist of not only a city staging but it was a country staging to the world to show the world that China showing it’s economic power through Olympic in Beijing. The city has been going into huge changes in the Mao era and its progression on 1990s and The Olympics undoubtedly was a catalyst of urban growth in Beijing.

The structure of the writing is:
2)Urban landscape developed pursuing Olympic 2008
3)Urban landscape After Olympic 2008

In This essay, the scope and time line is limited to before and after 2008. Chapter 1 is the introduction about Beijing. Chapter two is the chapter of to seek an answer about the image construction in Beijing pursuing Olympic 2008, and how the government role and commercial role take in charge of inventing architecture as agent of change of reshaping new image of Beijing. Chapter 3 seeks for current condition to know about recent situation. It is the chapter to understand the current Beijing’s economic situation and what is happening on government’s strategy on reshaping urban landscape. Statistics and literature study will be chosen as methods for achieving data. These 2 chapters develop specific points which provide the foundations upon which the hypothesis conclude. Chapter 4 is the conclusion which demonstrates summaries of the essay and provides the answer of the hypothesis above.

2) Urban landscape developed pursuing Olympic 2008

Rose as stated in the book called Solutions for a modern City, Arup in Beijing that Beijing is’ the greatest single work of man on the face of the earth”. The city is practically a diagram of imperial china’s coherent and comprehensive idea statement… it is a succession of concentric quadrangles. The basic unit of Beijing was the siheyuan, a four sided single storey residence for an extended family with an open courtyard at its centre… were packed neatly in a grid of streets aligned to the points of the compass… Forbidden city follows the same rules as the domestic architecture: courtyards within courtyards…’ Rose. S. (2008:8). It also has the orientation from north to south from the Gate of Eternal stability to the south, passing Tiananmen Square through centre of the Forbidden City, and beyond it to ceremonial bell and drum towers, in the north of the city. See figure 2arup


Figure 2 Arup’s project in Beijing (2008:9)

In 2008, Arup as a international engineering firm has been closely involved in many of the iconic and monumental projects commissioned to support the Olympics, the project consists of The national Aquatics centre, ‘Birds nest’ The Beijing National Stadium, The fencing hall/ National convention center, Beijing Capital International Airport’s new terminal 3, the new headquarters of China Central Television (CCTV) which is a triumphal arch and 70 storey skyscraper… the client called for an iconic building and this one characteristically mixes its understated metaphors,…’ Jencks, C (2007:60), others are China World Trade Center Phase 3 (tallest building in Beijing), Beijing South rail station (starting point for high speed rail services to the regions of Tianjing and Shang Hai), Beijing Parkview Green (largest sustainable architecture projects), Nokia china’s new headquarters (also known as the Nokia green building).Arup (2008:62-63).

The number of the projects is more than 9 that consisting multi billion projects. The number depict a reality at time of pursuing 2008 that it deals with a buildings, a public realm, and undoubtedly money. The 9 projects that are mentioned above is just a small portion of what’s really happening in Beijing.

Olympic as a catalyst of city’s growth in Beijing is not a new story, It happened in several cities and countries such as ‘… Rome, host of the 1960 Olympiad, where highway, airport, and urban landscape improvements were implemented in advance of the event…1964 Summer Olympic Games, Tokyo built two new underground rail lines, expanded its metropolitan highway network,… public housing, sewer infrastructure, and harbor facilities. Munich’s Olympic Village was designed to be a community for moderate-and low income residents after the games, and hosting the ill fated 1962 Games was the impetus for restoring the historic city center… Campanella (2008:125)
Beijing has been in a phase to exploit its material fabric of the city through architecture and urbanism. One of the official concepts of the Beijing organizing committee of the Olympic Games underscores the concept of showing china’s economic advancement through a high tech Olympics showcase. BOCOG stated the mission of Beijing Olympics that : ‘The Beijing 2008 Olympic Games Sponsorship Program shall abide by the Olympic Charter and adhere to the Olympic Ideals and the three concepts of ‘Green Olympic Games, High-tech Olympic Games and People’s Olympic Games’; assist in the promotion of the Olympic Movement, the promotion of the Olympic image and brand awareness of the Beijing Games and COC in and outside China; ensure financial sufficiency and stability, and reliable technical and service support for the staging and operation of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games; provide a unique Olympic marketing platform for both Chinese and foreign enterprises and encourage the broad participation of Chinese business entities to enhance their corporate image and brand awareness through their Olympic association, and provide quality services to sponsors and maximize the return on their investments while helping them forge long-term partnerships with the Olympic Movement in China.’ BOCOG (2009)
The government highlighted several keywords: green, high tech, and people. For a month in 2008 a city of 15 million permanent residents and 4 million from elsewhere in the country will receive more than 2.5 million visitors, including 17,600 athletes and officials and at least as many members of the press, Marving (2008:233). By 2008, there will be a total of 800 hotels with 1300000 rooms compared to 458 hotels with 84812 rooms in 2005 (Owen 2005, 13-14). 31 sport venues are mandated for Beijing and six more for the host cities of Qing Dao, Hong Kong, Tianjin, Shanghai, Shenyan, and Qinhuang Dao. 16 of this are completely new; all but three will be upgraded. Marving (2008:233).
The strategy of urbanism consist developing transportation, open space, and quality of the environment. The public transportation was improved, older buses and taxis have been replaced with new ones that run on compressed natural gas (CNG) or comply with the municipal vehicle emissions standards, enforced in the recent years by the city of Beijing. ‘Out of total operating fleet of 60,000 taxis and 19000 buses, more that 47,000 old taxis and 7,000 old diesel buses had been replaced or refitted by the end of 2006. New buses powered by compressed natural gas (CNG) were introduced to replace old buses: 2,795 CND buses are now running in Beijing.’UNEP (2007: 18). It also consist a transportation projects such as Tibet-Qinghay railway (The world’s highest) and the three gorges dam (the world’s largest). Marvin (2008:230).
Green space is also developed, ‘green coverage in Beijing, and has expanded to more that 50 percent of the city’s area. Beijing has created three different ecological zones in the mountain, plains and urban area to create a green shelter for the city. At the end of 2006, the three ecological zones were nearly completed, including a total of 20 natural reserves to protect forests, wild plants and animals, wetlands, and geological formations. ‘ UNEP (2007:20)
Beijing was doing well based on the assessment from UNEP Report in setting the environmental goals. During the candidature phase in 2000, Beijing set ambitious environmental goals to show the world its commitment to sustainable development. Beijing’s municipal Government and government of China outlined 20 key projects to improve Beijing’s environment, and an overall investment of US$ 6.6 million in 2003-2007 under the Beijing sustainable development plan. The project areas range from addressing air and water quality and waste management to including environmental considerations in new infrastructure development. According to official data, 4.13 million tons water were produced in 2006 in the eight central districts, while the overall processing capacity was close to 3.98 million tons water, giving a processing rate to 96.5 percent , UNEP(2007:14,20)

Nevertheless the extinction of China’s dolphin also known as Baiji which usually lives in Yang Tze River underlined that at some points this development has a significant effect to the environment. The dolphin’s population had plummeted from about 400 in the late 1980s to less than 100 in the mid-1990s.The last search for the animal, in 1997, yielded 13 sightings. But none has seen them since 2004, Lovgren (2009). This extinction of the Baiji resulted from heavy pollution that happened in the yang Tze River.
Additionally, there are thousands of major commercial and government projects in China. It has the same completion day which is August 2008. With so many big projects ending at that month it may cause a down turn to global economy as the demand of construction will suddenly falls.

3) Urban Landscape after Olympic 2008

Beijing has already achieved many of its bid commitments, for example on waste water treatment, water source protection and waster management, and appears to be well on the way of fulfilling all of them. In UNEP’s view, this is an achievement in itself, especially considering that the organizing committee of the previous Olympic summer games failed to follow up their environmental promises. UNEP (2007:20)
Beijing has used the Olympic Games for a catalyst of the economy growth to show the power of China. It does come to the nationalism to the heart of the people if we come back to the previous mission of Beijing Olympic Games that has 3 mission: green, high tech, and people. The number of the statistic is worrying. To talk about the people, Yuann and inch underlined that China exports just about anything and everything, from products to outsourced services, therefore it can be said to drive the economy forward. It also becomes basic of the fundamental of the economic driver. The fundamental are the three primary growth drivers – trade, investment, and consumption. Yuann and Inch (2008:69). The first that has to be concerned by the government is the exports. China is heavily depends on the West market, but since the economic crisis hit in the middle of 2009. The numbers of the trade, investment, and consumption started to decline. Demand from Western economies is the slow but steady appreciation of the Yuan and China’s own efforts to raise interest rates and stem shipments of resource-intensive products like aluminum and steel have hit exporters. Looking at the figure 3.


Figure 3 Trade plunge in China’s economy Source from Chinability 2003

The foreign trade continued to drop sharply with a slight decrease of trade surplus. The total value of imports and exports for the first half was US$ 946.1 billion, down by 23.5 percent year-on-year. The value of exports was US$ 521.5 billion, down by 21.8 percent, and the value of imports was US$ 424.6 billion, down 25.4 percent. The trade surplus was US$ 96.9 billion, a decrease of US$ 2.1 billion over the same period last year.oil products

Figure 4 Price of Oil International Energy Agency (2009:42)

The second is energy prices. China’s oil imports as a proportion of its overall import bill rose to almost 12 percent in the spring from around 8 percent at the start of 2008. China’s predicament is made worse by an unholy mess of price caps and subsidies in its domestic energy markets, which have led to shortages of fuel and electricity. EIA (2009)

Just after the Olympics, Iron demand, steel output and oil imports all continued to increase at double digit annual rates. 1 million people are moving from the countryside to the cities each month, see figure 5. The oil prices which rose to almost 10 percent since 2008 which have led to shortages of fuel and electricity, and China stock markets have crashed over the past year. Shanghai stock exchange fell 53 percent at the end of 2008. Unsold automobile inventories rose 50 percent to a four year high in June 2008. Nevertheless China’s government are dealing a dilemma of focusing on fighting inflation which was running over 7 percent in June 2008 or they look forward to stimulate a slowing economy. Foster (2008:55).

The consistency of the government was trialed by the down turn in global financial crisis to maintain a good economic growth. The economic growth is what Chinese government offer to make euphoria of good life. Broudehoux stated that current approaches to city marketing and urban image construction in Beijing are highly unsustainable and may actually be counter productive, she then made a basic proposition that there are a clash between two visions of the city: the abstract space imagined by state and its planners, and the lived space experience on a daily basis by the masses. Broudehoux (2008: 244-245).

The number of vacant space started to soar, 500 million square feet of commercial real estate has been developed in Beijing since 2006, an amount larger than all of the office space in Manhattan. In 2009,100 million square feet of office space is vacant — a 14-year supply if it filled up at the same rate as in the best years, 2004 through 2006, when about 7 million square feet a year was leased in Beijing. Demick (2009) Government is also spending money to the maintenance of the parks, According to a latest survey by the Horizon Group, one of China’s leading strategic researches and consultancy, China has invested about 150 billion Yuan (US$ 22 billion) in 2,500 theme parks across the country. 70 percent of them are not doing well now, and only 10 percent have paid back their initial investments.China daily(September 2009).


In reality, it’s true that urban image construction was instrumental in fostering urban growth. The urban image construction also carries positive long term effects as a vehicle for important transformations in Chinese society. It could act as a catalyst in promoting potential social change by provoking the creation of an urban public sphere.

I started my hypothesis from asking a simple question. Does Beijing need to slow down ? To answer this question is complex. China depends heavily on its exports. let me illustrate with a simple example. The immigration is about 1 million per month. People also need housing and job. The global crisis happened and the demand of the exports declining and there has been a down turn to China economic growth. Can Beijing slow down if the dream of the people is coming to Beijing to have a better life? If Beijing slows down would it show to the people that Beijing is declining? The government just doesn’t’ have any choice to slow down. One of the ways is to reduce the dependence to the exports. Another way is to reduce the migration to Beijing to slow down the urban growth of Beijing. The development always has positive and negative impacts. Nevertheless as Olympic is a catalyst of the urban development, it will increase the speed, scale, spectacle, sprawl, segregation, and on a final, hopeful note – sustainability Campanella (2008:281). I will end this essay with a picture of an old man sitting under a pine tree drawn by Ma Yuan consist of symbol of longetivity. Olympic is one of the miles stone that in the part of symbol longetivity for Beijing.

painting china

Paper in University Of New South Wales 2009, by author

Bilblio graphy

image 1 source from g’heyde’s photostream

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Oleh Realrich Sjarief

Founder of RAW Architecture

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