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American Society of Landscape Architects


March 2008 Issue

Olympic Hopeful
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

Olympic Hopeful

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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