A Look Inside Beijing's Mind-Boggling Development

<p>This article from <em>Metropolis Magazine</em> features a tour of Beijing as it prepares for the Summer Olympics. The scale of development is almost overwhelming, according to author Philip Nobel.</p>
March 30, 2008, 11am PDT | Nate Berg
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"It took a visit to that nondescript addition for me finally to see what is possible when modern technology, capitalist zeal, Communist control, national ambition, and a bottomless unprotected labor pool combine in the service of building. You can get things done. That moment also opened up for me the profound strangeness of the city. The shoulder-to-shoulder towers on the wide ring roads that give each the scale of Las Vegas Boulevard? All brand new. The wooded margins of every highway? The elaborately greened interchanges? All fresh, and all false, every tree imported and planted to mask Beijing's essential filthiness in advance of the ­coming-out party planned there this summer."

"The Olympic site itself no longer seemed like a lost cause. Touring it before, I thought there was no way the buildings would be finished and the vast dust bowl paved and tricked out with its planned parks, roads, and watercourses before the games began on August 8. It certainly will be-Herzog & de Meu­ron's intoxicating "Bird's Nest" stadium is now in punch list-but such sprinting has a cost. The New York Times reported in late January that six construction workers have died on Olympic sites in the last five years; the Times of London had previously put the number at ten. A long article on the official Beijing 2008 Web site was posted in early February, likely in response to all the bad press. The protesting-too-much begins with the headline, 'Workers Enjoy Good Serv­ices at Olympic Venue Sites.'"

"The current transformation of Beijing also includes the wholesale razing of many of the old residential quarters in the central city, the residents themselves relocated to vast new tower blocks on the urban edge-deluxe hutongs in the sky-or simply made homeless without contingency. Several of the old neighborhoods along the tourist routes near the Forbidden City have been preserved in sterilized form. But there's little opportunity here for outsider self-righteousness; the effects of such changes are not very different than they would be in any American city: low-rent buildings replaced by expensive ones through economic churn, people displaced, quaint neighborhoods locked in amber. Though having two invisible hands-the will of an all-powerful government plus the inexorable pressure of capital-seems to streamline the process."

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Published on Wednesday, March 19, 2008 in Metropolis Magazine
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