FEATURE: City transformation is a capital idea

BEIJING (China Daily/ANN) - Beijing started as an industrial base, but is shaking off its old image to become a science-savvy international metropolis.

Chen Limin hadn’t noticed until recently that an ancient temple existed in the alley where she has been living for 15 years in Beijing’s Xicheng district.

Shengzuolongchang Temple, which was built more than 400 years ago in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), was recently rediscovered as the municipality undertook action to beautify city streets.

“The temple was concealed by many illegal buildings erected by the residents in the alley,” said Chen, aged in her 30s. “I passed by it frequently, but never thought there would be historical sites and relics in it.”

Many residents had taken advantage of the temple’s anonymity to building their own dwellings and rooms inside.

In June, the district authorities tore down the illegal structures to begin conservation and protection work at the site.

But protecting historic sites as well as clearing older sections of the city to make way for high-tech industries are only two aspects of Beijing’s rapidly altering face.

The past is past

China’s capital has changed dramatically over the past 70 years, transforming itself from a city driven by economic growth to one hoping to become a cradle of science, technological innovation and cultural development.

Eventually, its loftier ambition is to become an international mega city of the future with its residents enjoying a high standard of living.

For the majority of those seven decades, Beijing was the nation’s economic centre whose industrial units contributed to two-thirds of its GDP.

The growth in industry saw an influx of migrants rushing to the city to look for work. This had a knock-on effect of more economic growth, greater energy consumption and, of course, worsening pollution. Beijing gradually became an unpleasant place to live.

In 1982, Beijing’s city planners stopped mentioning that the capital was an “industrial base”.

Its aspirations changed again in 1993, when its planning goal was to become the national political, economic and cultural centre. Eleven years later, the planning vision for Beijing dropped the reference to “economic centre” and added that the capital should become a “livable city”. The aim of being China’s political and cultural centres remained.

Xi’s vision

On Feb 26, 2014, President Xi Jinping inspected Beijing.

During his visit, he declared Beijing should function as the national centre of politics, culture, international communications, and science and technology innovation.

Since then, Beijing has been working on realising its new responsibilities by moving noncore functions, such as manufacturing and wholesale markets, out of the city and accelerating technology and innovation development.

In 2017, what was known by locals as the garment market in Xicheng district shut down, marking a milestone in the dismantling of Beijing’s dated image.

It was the biggest garment wholesaler in the city.

Before, the 300-metre-long crowded street near the market was hard to get through in half an hour. Nowadays, people can walk through in a matter of minutes.

Lu Yingchuan, Party secretary of Xicheng district, said: “The district, along with all the other districts in Beijing, has been working on improving the old and small residential communities and improving the condition of streets and alleys, which has achieved obvious results.”

International aim

Cai Qi, Party secretary of Beijing, said the aim of restructuring the capital’s functions was to turn the city into an international-level metropolis with a comfortable lifestyle for its residents.

With the space freed up by the removal of manufacturing bases and wholesale markets, Beijing has started to make better use of the land for scientific and innovation centres, as well as cultural parks.

One of the buildings that used to host vendors in the garment wholesale market has been transformed into an innovation hub and renamed the Baolan Finance Innovation Centre.

Li Ran, general manager the company that manages the Baolan centre, said he is confident about the development of the area. He said the government has shown the determination to upgrade the use of city’s building and land, and a willingness to transfer them to financial and high-tech industries.

Last year, Beijing’s GDP reached 3 trillion yuan ($427 billion), with the capital’s annual economic growth averaging 10.4 per cent from 1953 to 2018, according to the city’s statistics bureau.

The new economies, including science and technology, and innovation constituted 33.2 per cent of Beijing’s GDP last year, which shows the trend of the city’s future economic structure.

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