Rome wasn't built in a day, BJ is trying anyways

October 26, 2006 - by Tim Cronin

Every Tuesday and Thursday morning when I intern at Lehman, Lee & Xu's Beijing office, I step out of the taxicab onto Liangmaqiao Road only to notice that the street has yet again transformed itself overnight. Today, fresh black pavement adorned with vibrant yellow paint glistened under the morning dew. Just two days ago I was greeted by newly lain brick sidewalk. These dailysurprises encouraged me to take a closer look at both the good and the bad sides of Beijing's rapid construction.

The obvious benefit of China's frantic preparations for the 2008 Olympics is that Beijing is modernizing at a pace the world has never seen. The Wall Street Journal reported that the government is spending nearly $40 billion in preparation for the gamesí¬over three times the Athens 2004 tab. In addition to building 11 athletic venues from scratch (including the already famous 'Bird's Nest'), Beijing city planners are also on target to complete three additional subway lines by 2008.

The rapid developments certainly demonstrate China's determination to catch up with, or surpass, other world cities. In fact, the International Olympic Committee recently asked Beijing to curb the pace of construction in fear of buildings sitting dormant and profitless for too long.

Although impressive, the frenzy of construction does not come without a number of negative effects. For one thing, the noise pollution is deafening (right now I am trying to ignore the raucous of jackhammers and asphalt rakes coming from Liangmaqiao). But Beijing faces more serious problems than threatening office workers' personal comfort.

In this year alone, the Construction Ministry has reported 49 deaths in the building industry. A number that labor unions and NGOs cite as unrealistically low because of cover-ups. Patrick Poon, of China Labour Bulletin (Hong Kong) claims, "only between five and 10 per cent of workplace accidents are officially reported." Despite the doctored numbers, China ranks the highest worldwide in accidental occupational fatalities with over a quarter of the global tally.

The morbid statistics from China's construction industry do not prove Beijing's progress as undeserving of international praise. However, with international praise should also come international scrutiny. On Beijing's quest to modernize roads and subways, the government must also update safety and labor laws. When I reach the office every Tuesday and Thursday morning, I see not only recently paved streets and sidewalks, but also welders without eye protection and workers without hardhats. Olympic goers will also notice both sides of Beijing. Thus the city should take steps to ensure that by 2008, Beijing's residents can be proud of its advancements in modernizing both the quality of roads and the quality of life.

Sources: The Wall Street Journal, China Daily, The Sunday Telegraph (London), The Globe and Mail (Canada)

Submit Comment


Resident Blawgers