If you haven’t visited it before, Beijing can come across like many other big, brash, boomtime Chinese cities. It’s colossal, loud, and hamfisted. The air has the consistency of pea soup, there are cameras everywhere, and enough cops to occupy Paris. This article recently summed up life within the confines of it’s ring roads. I believe it is also a flashpoint for a new trend.
Urban migration is something that defined the 20th century. The technological innovations and centralisation of power meant that employment and opportunity were in far greater supply here, but that wasn’t the only reason. We, collectively, have a desire to be close to the action. We need to see it happen, first-hand, and succeed not just in real terms – but relative ones too, between ourselves.
But there is a limit to this appeal. The larger our cities become, the worse our organisational capacities are. The division, inconvenience and stress of the city dominates Beijing. The already excessive cost of living breeds a generation of renters, far from green spaces, restricted by brutal traffic and cost, to their small, shaded, slice of urban modernity, a screen their only visceral contact with the natural world.
A reformation in values is in the offing. It assigns an individualised value to the term ‘quality of life’, one of your own private making, whereby we can stop regarding the urban jungle as an outright necessity. Aided by technical innovations, mechanisation, and home offices catering to remote locations, it could mean work and wage aren’t sacrificed. A man can dream, anyways.