City Too Busy for Many
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It was supposed to be a perfect Friday night for Ding Ding as the 30-year-old commuter prepared to meet her boyfriend for a luxurious meal.
But she instead found herself trapped between the doors at a subway station while fellow travelers both inside and outside the train pushed against her, leaving her injured and feeling once again that it's time to get out of the city.
"I've been seriously thinking recently about quitting my job because this city is just too crowded," she said.
Ding, an employee at a travel agency, arrived in Beijing from Chongqing seven years ago. She said her daily commute between Wukesong and Guomao has become more and more of a struggle.
Ding said she is not the only one thinking of giving up a well-paid job because she can no longer endure life in the overcrowded city.
A recent survey of more than 7,000 white-collar workers by Zhaopin.com, one of the largest online job agencies, shows that around 80 percent of respondents want to "escape" from the capital.
They cited choking traffic and skyrocketing house prices as the main reasons to turn their backs on Beijing.
Meanwhile, a report released by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences shows that commuters in Beijing spend an average of 52 minutes on their journey each morning, and another 52 minutes at the other end of the day. The commute time is the longest in the country.
And the latest figures show that Beijing's population is around 20 million people, despite the fact that a 2005 plan said its population should stay at 18 million until the end of 2020.
Experts on population and urban planning have been suggesting ways that Beijing might deal with its huge population.
Wang Jun, a researcher on urban planning and the author of Chengji, a best-seller exploring the development of Beijing, suggests that the city should switch from a "single-center" development to a "multi-center" one where different parts of the city play different roles.
"Beijing made such a plan five years ago," he said. "The single-center structure of Beijing means commuters have to live in the outskirts but work in the downtown."
He said some big communities, such as Tiantongyuan and Huilongguan, are short of job opportunities and necessary facilities such as entertainment centers, hospitals and schools.
"If people can find jobs near their homes, few of them would make the long commutes downtown every day," he said.
He added that Beijing could learn from successes in other cities, such as London, which has spent nearly half a decade moving half of its downtown population to live and work in more than 10 new satellite cities that are around 50 kilometers from the downtown.
In addition, he suggested Beijing further improves its public transportation system.
The local government is already working on some of the ideas.
The latest plan to ease traffic gridlock said the city will improve public transportation and increase its use by 50 percent by the end of 2015.
Following the recent opening of five new subway lines, more transportation infrastructure is being built.
Yang Baojun, chief planner with the China Academy of Urban Planning and Design, said Beijing, which was the first city in China to start work on an underground system when it broke ground in 1956, made do with two lines up until 2002.
"The main way the capital can ease its gridlock would be to continue to develop its railway system," Yang said.
Mu Guangzong, a professor of population research at Peking University, said Beijing is able to attract millions of migrant workers because it has more job opportunities and can offer them better lives.
He said Beijing should develop more industrial belts to match the population it draws to it, adding that it would be "unrealistic" to control the population through policies alone.
"The definition of Beijing is a developing concept," he said. "The city now is different to the one in the Ming and Qing dynasties or the Beijing of the early 1950s.
"Beijing will become bigger and the population will keep increasing. The best solution is to adjust the city's structure and turn it into a 'multi-centered' city."
(China Daily January 4, 2011)