BEIJING, China (CNN) -- Post-Olympics Beijing is a vastly changed landscape from the one that existed in 2001 when the city won the bid.
Construction cranes are ubiquitous in Beijing and other Chinese cities.
Spurred by the Olympics, the city's subway lines quadrupled from two lines to eight, with another six now under construction. The city's perimeter expanded with the addition of the 4th, 5th and 6th ring roads, linking districts and satellite towns while accommodating an estimated 3.5 million cars.
But as Huang Yan, the director of the Beijing Municipal Commission of Urban Planning, sees it, the change is not exclusively related to the Olympics. If there were no Olympics, the city would still be building and expanding into rural land because of urbanization, she said.
For Beijing and other Chinese cities, the issue is a special one because rural areas are more heavily populated than elsewhere in the country, she said in a telephone interview in August.
The dichotomy between urban and rural areas is further exacerbated by the divide between rich and poor. The country's urban-rural income gap is among the highest in the world, according to a comprehensive United Nations Development Programme report in 2005.
The Chinese government views development and urbanization as the key to alleviating this gap.
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Already, Chinese metropolitan cities annually see an influx of 25-30 million people from rural areas, Huang said.
At the current pace, China's urban population will add 350 million people within the next two decades to hit a billion by 2030, according to a McKinsey Global Institute report.
"Every year the city is expanding, so it eats 'the village,' and the village becomes a part of the city," Huang said of Beijing.
Last year, its population exceeded 17 million, a million shy of the government's ceiling for 2020, according to state-run Xinhua.
The challenge of balancing urbanization, the labor and living needs of more than a billion people, and a growing dearth of farmland is a national problem, Huang says. The Olympics was only a part of the urbanization well under way.
The number of households relocated because of the Olympics ranges greatly, depending on how Olympic construction and urbanization are defined.
According to the Beijing Municipal Construction Committee, about 6,000 households -- or 15,000 people -- were fairly compensated and voluntarily relocated for the construction of Olympic venues, 12 of which were newly built, while the majority were renovated or temporary facilities. State-run China Daily put the number of people relocated each year due to urbanization at 40,000, a portion of which comprised Olympic-related relocations.
However, the Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) estimated 1.5 million were displaced during preparations for the Olympics. The group says it based its count on Chinese government reports and statements relating to construction and urban redevelopment leading up to the games.
Released in July, COHRE's report, "One World, Whose Dream?" -- a play on Beijing's official slogan for the Games -- cited harassment, violence, forced evictions and arrest for residents and activists who spoke out publicly against relocation or compensation. In some cases, tenants did not receive the promised compensation or adequate compensation, forcing them to move to areas far from work, community, decent schools and health care facilities, the report found.
Nicholas Bequelin, researcher in the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, lauded the report, saying no effective recourse existed for people who challenged eviction orders. "Unfortunately, there is an absolute lack of transparency about the number of people forcibly relocated in the course of the preparation for the Games," he wrote in an email to CNN.
Beijing rejected the figures from COHRE, calling them "groundless," after the report was released. Back in 2004, the mayor of Beijing acknowledged there had been "exceptional cases of forced demolition" of urban residential buildings, but he said the goal was to improve living conditions for people ahead of the 2008 games. At a news conference earlier this year, the government said villagers who were relocated to make way for Olympic venues gained newfound social security and welfare benefits, along with modern housing that improved on shabby dwellings.
The government has argued that relocation is part of an effort to reduce the gap between rich and poor. While the average per capita living space is about 27 square meters for urban dwellers, 10 million low-income families live in homes less than 10 square meters per capita, according to the government.
Beijing's urbanization -- or Olympic planning -- didn't begin during the last decade, said Huang, who oversaw the planning and construction department during the city's successful Olympics bid. "Olympic Park appeared in our plan in 1993," she said, referring to Beijing's 1993 Comprehensive Master Plan, which envisioned the city through 2010.
Huang traced Beijing's transformation to 60 years ago when the new government inherited a capital city largely dating from the Yuan and Ming dynasties beginning seven centuries prior. In 1949, Beijing was a walled city encompassing 62.5 square kilometers (24 miles) and belonged to the Old World, Huang said: It was not a self-sustaining entity.
The solution was industrialization, which meant factories that fueled development and migration into the city, Huang added. This period also saw the demolition of the ancient imperial city's wall and gates. After a 10-year lull brought by the Cultural Revolution, the city resumed building, but it wasn't until 1992, when leader Deng Xiaoping gave the green light to open up further, that modernization gained steam. By then, China's ultimately unsuccessful bid for the 2000 Olympics was already under way.
Today, Beijing is a municipality covering 16,800 square kilometers (6,500 square miles) and growing.
"The old city is a small corner of the large city," Huang said.
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