Guangzhou ready for Asian Games

Twelve new stadia have been built. Three new subway lines have opened, and six others extended. The athletes' village has been polished and scrubbed — the bathrooms have already been fitted with shampoo and toilet paper.

And Guangzhou still has almost a month to go before the biggest ever Asian Games kick off.

There are few signs in this sprawling southern port city of the last-minute scramble to the finish-line that dominated headlines ahead of the Commonwealth Games in India. Several of the 70 stadia that have been readied for the Games — 58 existing venues have also been renovated — have already held test events.

Guangzhou, a city that is often in the shadows of Beijing and Shanghai, is using the Asian Games to undergo an expensive image makeover, transforming an old, crowded port city into a modern business hub.

The city has spent 123 billion yuan ($18.49 billion or Rs. 82,400 crore) for the Games on widening roads, building bridges, expanding the airport and cleaning its famously polluted waterways. Much of this amount — 109 billion yuan (Rs. 73,000 crore) — went towards urban development projects, dwarfing the reported Rs. 28,248 crore New Delhi spent on the Commonwealth Games.

The most ambitious project has been upgrading the metro rail system, which has been lengthened from just one 18 km-line eight years ago to over 236 km.

Eighty per cent of the venues will be connected by new subway lines, which have already opened ahead of the November 12 inauguration.

There have been minor delays in readying some of the stadia, but officials said work would be completed at least two weeks before the opening.

“We are pretty much on track and there have been no delays,” said Jeff Ruffolo, an executive adviser to the Guangzhou Asian Games Organising Committee. “When you look at venues and the Asian Games town, we could have fast-tracked everything and had it opened two months ago.”

Mixed blessing

For the city's 10 million residents, however, the Games have been a mixed blessing. Most have welcomed the infrastructure upgrades, particularly the new metro system, but have criticised the massive security and traffic arrangements. Forty per cent of Guangzhou's vehicles will be taken off the roads in the coming weeks under a new licence plate regulation.

A much-publicised clean-up campaign has also had mixed results. Roads and parks are cleaner, and the government has spent millions on new sewage treatment plants, but many are yet to open. Statistics say the air quality during the Games will be markedly improved, but largely because of the vehicle ban and a government order temporarily closing down nearby factories.

The infrastructure overhaul has also seen one of China's oldest cities lose much of its heritage. Many of Guangzhou's 138 urban villages — neighbourhoods of narrow alleyways and homes which date back to the 12th century — are being demolished to make way for new apartment complexes as part of the modern makeover. The project, though unrelated to the Games, has been rushed through in recent months.

While officials say the urban clusters are unsafe and prone to fire accidents, residents in some communities said in interviews that the ongoing relocation process, which involves more than 600,000 residents, had been inconsistent. In three such communities in downtown Guangzhou, there have been cases of forced demolitions by local authorities and unpaid compensations, which remain unresolved.

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Printable version | Sep 20, 2021 5:47:16 AM |

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