Balancing prosperity and quality of life
By Mazhar Alam  ·  2023-10-23  ·   Source: NO.43 OCTOBER 26, 2023
A blue sky over Beijing in September(MAZHAR ALAM)

Change is the only constant in life and it's particularly pronounced in the vibrant city of Beijing. Having been a resident of China since 1993 and calling Beijing home since 1996, I have witnessed firsthand the city's remarkable evolution.

Every time I return after an extended absence, I am struck by the profound changes in the surrounding areas. This time, my return comes after a four-year hiatus. I found myself stuck in Pakistan due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. Yet this extended absence provided me with a unique perspective on the transformations taking place in Beijing.

One of the most noteworthy achievements in Beijing's recent history is the significant improvement in air quality. For years, the city struggled with severe air pollution, often making headlines as one of the world's most polluted cities. However, Beijing's commitment to addressing this issue has led to substantial improvements. The implementation of strict emission standards, the promotion of clean energy sources and the adoption of green technologies have all contributed to the city's cleaner air. As a result, Beijing now serves as a model for other cities grappling with air quality


The expansion and improvement of road infrastructure in Beijing have been nothing short of impressive. The city has invested heavily in expanding its road network, reducing traffic congestion and enhancing transportation options. A modern and well-connected road system has not only made commuting more convenient, but also reduced the burden on the environment by encouraging the use of public and non-motorized modes of transportation.

To address traffic-related challenges, Beijing has also encouraged the adoption of electric vehicles and introduced strict regulations on emissions. The city's commitment to sustainable transportation has not only improved air quality but also paved the way for a greener future. Moreover, the promotion of alternative transportation options, such as shared bikes, has encouraged a shift away from car-centric behavior.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the municipal government has taken cleanliness to new levels, especially in residential areas. Waste management companies have established waste sorting stations in or near most residential areas and deployed several employees in every residential area to manage garbage cans and keep them clean. This proactive approach not only addresses public health concerns but also fosters a greater sense of environmental responsibility among residents.

Moreover, the expansion of cultural and recreational opportunities has enriched the lives of citizens and enhanced the city's global appeal. Beijing's vibrant arts scene, numerous parks and diverse culinary offerings cater to the wide-ranging tastes of its residents.

The transformation of Beijing encompasses a shift in social behavior as well. As the city has developed and prospered, its residents have become more socially conscious and engaged. Communities have come together to address local issues, promote environmental sustainability and create a sense of belonging.

Yet while Beijing has made tremendous progress in various aspects of urban life, it has not been immune to economic challenges, including rising prices. But a key reason for the resilience of Beijing's population in the face of rising prices is the corresponding increase in income levels. The city's commitment to economic development and job creation has resulted in improved job prospects. As a result, the people of Beijing are better equipped to manage the costs of living.

In conclusion, Beijing's journey of transformation in recent years is a testament to the city's commitment to improving the quality of life for its residents. From cleaner air and efficient city management to the provision of essential services and the positive shift in social behavior, all have contributed to the overall wellbeing of Beijing's residents.

The author is a Pakistani anthropologist living in Beijing

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon

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