Rashme SehgalRashme Sehgal



“Will the Olympics Help Bring Back the Birds” – ask Beijing Residents..

Beijing: The complete absence of bird life in Chinese cities could well explain why the Chinese, in a mood of nostalgia, have chosen to nickname a string of important buildings coming up in their capital city around the nesting habits of birds.
The prestigious Beijing National Stadium which will be the key venue for the main track events of the 2008 Summer Olympic games, as also for its opening and closing ceremonies, is popularly referred to as the Bird’s Nest.

Presently under construction at a cost of 3.5 billion yuan, it is not difficult to understand why the stadium has received this name. Its grid like structure resembles a large, untidy eagle’s nest. Its Swiss architects, Herzog and de Meuron who have collaborated with ArupSport and China Architecture Design and Research Group to design a stadium that will seat over 100,000 spectators.
Bird’s Nest has been designed with proper green quotients which include rainwater harvesting, natural ventilation and a translucent membrane roof in order to provide essential sunlight for the grass to grow below it. The stadium has used 35 km of unwrapped steel with a combined weight of 45,000 tonnes to create its spectacular   twisting and turning effects.
To the west of Tiananmen Square, another magnificent structure completed in time for the Olympics is the opera house which is referred to in popular parlance as the Egg Shell.  Designed by French architect Paul Andreu, this bubble-shaped complex uses a combination of glass and titanium and will allow the audience to sit in any of its three amphitheatres and look up to the sight of the clouds drifting across the Beijing skyline.
The nostalgia for anything related to birds does not stop here. The Olympic beach volleyball competition will be held at the Chaoyang Park, an area that till only four years ago comprised of a gas factory. Tian Jinxian, general manager of the Chaoyang Park Development Corporation points out how   ` No one was willing to call this complex the Beach Volleyball Stadium. Rather, because it is smaller in size than the Bird’s Nest, we prefer to call it the Swallow’s Nest’.
Realizing  the need to offset the dust and smoke that is hovering over the city’s skyline thanks to the extraordinary amount of construction activity taking place in preparation of next year’s games,  the  Chinese  have finally woken up to the importance of  working within a strict environmental regime.
Sun Weide, deputy director of the Beijing Olympic Organising Committee pointed out that the Beijing municipality had spent $120 billion dollars in the last decade to improve the overall environment of the city.
Weide said, `During the last year alone, we have planted 28 million trees. The tree planting momentum will be kept up.’
Equally important has been the Beijing municipality’s decision to remove the 200 polluting factories out of the city.  Amongst the factories closed down was the Beijing Chemical and Coking Plant employing several hundred workers. A city that was used to consuming coal as a key source of domestic energy has switched over to natural gas and electricity. The result has seen electricity consumption jump by 80 per cent while natural gas consumption has risen from 300 million cubic metres to 3.8 billion cubic metres in the last year.
One more attempt to control pollution and mounting traffic jams was to keep the city’s cars off the roads on alternate days as a three-day exercise.Weide says this saw the air quality levels improve. He went on to add that Beijing is witnessed 241 good `air quality days’ in 2005-6 as opposed to 100 good days a decade ago.

Another area that the city municipality is focusing on is the improving of the public transport system.  Weide said, `The government has allocated $110 billion to improve the public transport system. This has seen 50,000 new taxis unleashed in the city with another 7000 taxis expected to hit the road in the coming months.  Older buses have been replaced with 7000 gas-fueled buses. ‘
But whatever statistics the government may reel out about the Olympics, what is filling the average citizen with pride is how the green cover of the city is being extended thanks to the coming games.
`Actual venues have been shifted to save old trees. The Gymnasium was moved a few metres in order to protect seven ancient trees,’ pointed out Xiao Guoping, engineer with the Department of Capital Construction Management of Beijing University.
`The underground foundation of the Gymnasium was moved two metres away from the roots of the trees and a waterproof interlayer was placed between the roots and foundation to prevent water loss from the roots,’ Guoping added.
Residents are no longer wearing so many masks as they move around the city. ‘The air is fresher; the trees are looking more beautiful. Will the birds come back?’ asks Wang Zhixin, a city resident, hope filling her eyes.
But several local environmentalists are quietly expressing displeasure at the Olympic torch being carried to the top of Mount Everest by 50 Chinese mountaineers. This they believe will only further degrade these mountains they claim.