This past weekend Aya and I went to the Beijing City Planning Museum. We had actually intended to go to Tiananmen Square first to see Mao, but as usual as soon as we arrived the crowds turned us off from that idea. Lucky for us we were two of only about 30 people in the whole museum, I guess it isn't too popular.
I was looking forward to coming here for a few reasons. First, I had visited the city and my friend Davis 15(!) years ago and so it would be neat to see some of the changes. The museum did in fact have a section detailing the growth of the city and even from the year 2000 to the present it is pretty clear the city has gotten much larger. When I was visiting him I remember a lot of construction and destruction as the city was preparing for the 2008 olympics.
The second reason is that I have read a few books on Chinese history and at various points they talk about the city of Beijing. Last year, in fact, I read 400 pages on just the history of the city and found it very interesting to see how it was viewed and expanded through the ages as well as efforts to maintain and restore parts of the old city.
The third and maybe most silly reason is that I went to the City Planning Museum of Shanghai a few years ago and thought the model they had of the city was pretty cool, so I wanted to check out the Beijing one and see if I could find my apartment on the map. Unfortunately the map stops about 2km south of where I live.
The museum consisted of 4 floors. Mostly this was devoted to pictures of the city and the people involved in its development, most displays had some english, so that was helpful. The main interest to me was the 3d miniature map. It was pretty neat and I can imagine it took a long time to build it.
As I walked around the map and saw in various places around the museum I couldn't help but reflect on some of the things I would consider mistakes in planning. Just to name a few, the destruction of the old city wall was probably a mistake. When Mao had won the war and declared Beijing the capital city, the wall came down under his guidance to make room for industry, but he could have picked any city to put industry in or kept it outside the city proper. He torn down the walls against good advice and that makes me a little sad as I am sure they were a site to see. The other thing that really struck me is that I don't see a lot of forward planning in the design of Beijing over the past 50 years or so. It seems haphazard to me. This might be illustrated by the problems that Beijing has with pollution. In planning the city in the 21st century Beijing's city planners met with planners in LA about air pollution and how to plan the city to minimize it. They ignored the examples set by LA in reducing their pollution and the impact is obvious today as the government back tracks on planning measures to make the city more livable.
Beijing is my home and most of the time I enjoy living here, but looking at that big map of the city I just kept thinking about what if? What if you could go back in time 100 years ago and plan all over? What changes would you make?