A city desperately short of parkland, Beijing uses this
year’s games as an incentive for a 2.6-square-mile park.
By Frederick R. Steiner, FASLA
Both opportunity and danger can be seen in Beijing today.
Air pollution can be literally seen on most days. One estimate is that living
in Beijing is the equivalent of smoking 70 cigarettes a day. Traffic clogs city
streets with cars and trucks competing with bikes, pedestrians, carts, and
donkeys. As once plentiful groundwater sources dry up at a pace of almost a
meter a year, the water quality degrades.
Landscape architecture plays a mitigating role in both the
pollution challenges and the unbridled growth of Beijing. Olympic Green with
its Beijing Olympic Forest Park provides a dramatic example of the positive
contributions being made by landscape architects. At 2.6 square miles, Olympic
Forest Park is the largest public green space ever built in Beijing and is
twice the size of New York’s Central Park. The focus of recent open space
development in Beijing has been on greenbelts associated with the construction
of ring roads (all plants, no people) and street widening. Most new parks are
linear and are associated with the former locations of walls and moats, or they
are centerpieces of massive development projects.
Currently, only 41 square miles of parks and 111 square
miles of other open space exist for a city of 17 million people that is
expected to exceed 21 million by 2020. Existing parks and open space are
heavily used in Beijing. For example, the Temple of Heaven is less than half
the size of Olympic Forest Park and attracts 17.8 million visitors (12.1
million Beijing residents and 5.7 million tourists) annually, or 89,000 people
a day. Chinese scholars note that the type and distribution of current parks
are unreasonable, connectivity is inadequate, and there are simply not enough
parks. Many Beijing citizens resort to pursuing recreation under highway
cloverleafs. The green spaces associated with the Olympics elevate the level
and quality of new parks in Beijing.
The overall master plan and the park design evolved from a
series of competitions. Sasaki Associates won the initial 2002 international
open competition for the Olympic master plan. Unveiled in 2003, the new Olympic
Green sought to transform the rapidly growing northern areas of Beijing.
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