Thursday, 8 September 2011
Outside The Box in Beijing
During the last couple of years I have been contracted as a consultant to a UN agency, the International Telecommunication Union, for whom I have written studies on climate change and the ICT sector. The ITU recently asked me to give a presentation as an expert on such matters at a seminar on green ICTs in Beijing, co-hosted by the ITU and China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. It would have been rude to refuse, so I duly turned up in Beijing last week, having decided to tack on a couple of extra days – my first visit to Beijing being a chance to check out the capital of the next global superpower (ironically, videoconferencing did not seem to be an option). Beijing catapulted into public prominence during the 2008 Olympic Games, which saw a boom in construction with iconic structures like the Bird’s Nest stadium. Less visible, but more useful was the expansion to the Beijing Subway, which is still ongoing. The subway is fast, frequent, clean, air-conditioned, extensive, inexpensive (2 CNY or about 20 pence, to go anywhere) and seems efficient. Many of the stations have public toilets, and the trains have illuminated maps to show progress, plus announcements in English. It's also the only subway system I've encountered where bags are x-rayed in a security check before you descend to the platform - presumably a bit more of the Olympic legacy (although the operators seemed pretty bored, and I never saw anyone stopped for a closer inspection). If you don’t mind sharing the train with what sometimes feels like a large part of Beijing’s 22 million population, the subway is definitely the best way to stay cool and beat the sprawl in this global megacity.