Saturday, August 8, 2009

Beijing One Year On

Re my previous post, there was an interesting article in today's Globe assessing the legacy of the Beijing Olympics--today marking the one year anniversary of the spectacle of the Opening Ceremonies.

Much of what the article has to say was confirmed to me earlier this week by my friend, and former student, Amy Zhang, who together with her partner, D'Arcy Saum, hosted me during my visit to Beijing last June. Amy is in town briefly en route to Yale, where she will begin a Ph.D. in Anthropology this fall, concentrating on informal waste communities in China. Amy was also the lead writer on Greenpeace's Environmental Assessment of the Beijing Games, and I relied on her expertise extensively during the research and writing of the Beijing sections of my Olympics chapter.

At any rate, as noted in the Globe article, Amy told me that pollution is definitely down in Beijing following the Olympics, with the new subway lines helping to offset somewhat the increase in automobile traffic. The showcase venues, while still a draw for out-of-town tourists, remain unused, and one shudders to think what Herzog and de Meuron's Bird's Nest Stadium will eventually be converted into. Relatedly--and something not reported in the Globe article--Amy told me that even the iconic Rem Koolhas-designed CCTV building remains unfinished, its fate in jeopardy ever since the fire at the adjacent Mandarin Oriental Hotel in January.

Needless to say, and despite Jacques Rogge's grand claims about Beijing repeating the model of South Korea, there have been no great leaps forward in terms of human rights in China. But, then, as I pointed out in my previous post we here in BC should be chary about wagging a disapproving finger.

Amy does believe the environmental legacy has the potential to be significant long term, with a similar clean-up model being employed in Shanghai in advance of next year's World Expo, and in Guangzhou in the lead-up to the 2010 Asian Games. She also notes that Greenpeace seems to have established itself as a viable player in the environmental activist scene in China, with increasingly bold protests and challenges to government policy.

One wonders what Vancouver's legacy will be? Barely breaking even, according to a related article in the same section of the Globe.


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