January 29, 2008

Constructing Beijing

Print More

BEIJING, China — A walk down many streets in the interior of Beijing can feature as many half-built buildings as finished ones; many of the completed buildings were constructed in the past 10 or 15 years. This construction has greatly changed the city skyline, which is filled with construction cranes working on still more projects.
[img_assist|nid=26977|title=Under construction|desc=Cranes surround construction sites in Beijing. Photo: Matt Hintsa|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Some of the construction is directly related to the upcoming 2008 Olympics, like the Beijing National Stadium known as the “bird’s nest” for its bowl-shape roof and twig-like façade. While more construction is indirectly related to the Olympics, much is due to the exponential economic growth in China since economic reform began in 1978.
While the growth in construction has further bolstered the Chinese economy, non-stop construction has also added to Beijing’s pollution problems.
Concerns about Olympic athletes competing in one of the world’s most polluted cities are common. The government is rumored to be shutting down factories during the games and stopping construction a few months before opening ceremonies. The official Olympic plans for these actions have not been announced, but a Chinese newspaper reported recently that traffic plans have been finalized. The Beijing News said that half of the 3.3 million cars in the city would be removed from the roads during the games.[img_assist|nid=26978|title=Nesting|desc=A view of the Beijing National Stadium, known as the “bird’s nest” under construction. Photo: Matt Hintsa|link=node|align=right|width=|height=0]
A great deal of construction would have to be finished by the beginning of the construction ban in Beijing, an easier feat given China’s speed with construction projects. Southeast University in Nanjing, for example, built a 93-square mile campus in a year and a half. Southeast Vice President Yuepu Pu said that several construction companies worked together 24 hours a day to complete the work, which cost 1.8 billion yuan (about $250 million).
Much of the traditional architecture has been displaced by the new construction. There has been a sharp decline in hutongs, narrow alleys lined with one-story houses; some of these communities existed for hundreds of years. A number of marketplaces have been cleared out to build malls, office buildings and wider roads.
While Beijing is full of new structures, many sites have also undergone renovations recently. Efforts at monument repair could be seen in the Forbidden City, the palace grounds of the emperor and his household for almost five centuries. Some buildings remain a faded red, while others are vibrantly red. A few of the buildings were in between, fitted with scaffolding. Though perhaps not as recent, a public address system has been installed in the Forbidden City, hidden among centuries-old buildings and statues. [img_assist|nid=26980|title=Time warp|desc=Visitors file into the Forbidden City during renovations. Photo: Matt Hintsa|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Construction and renovation are not the only reminders of the approaching 2008 Olympic games. A large clock counts down to the opening ceremonies in Tiananmen Square, the site of the infamous 1989 student demonstration; a giant sign was erected next to the Great Wall — about a 90 minute drive from Beijing — displaying the 2008 Olympic slogan: One World, One Dream. Billboards and advertisements — both for the Olympics themselves and for companies supporting the Olympics — are a common site in Beijing and other cities.
The Olympics are a great source of pride for many people in China. Several Olympic videos, which appear on television and billboard-sized televisions in public areas, emphasize the link between the Olympics and China. One music video with both Chinese and English lyrics, for example, featured the lyrics “loving Beijing, loving China, loving Olympic (sic).”