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And the Winner is...

Cover Story
Making Cities Work
What Makes Good Governance?

Asia's Best Cities
The Top Ten
The Complete Rankings

The Rankings Explained

Hong Kong vs. Singapore
The Competition Heats Up
A Comparison
Different Lifestyles

A devil of a job in the City of Angels

Power Center

overall rank: 10

country: China

population: 10,855,000

snapshot: The City at a Glance

Since 1267, when Kublai Khan made Beijing the capital of the Middle Kingdom, the city has been the center of the country's political and intellectual life. During the height of Mao Zedong's 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, millions were bused to Tiananmen Square for mass rallies. And who can forget the pro-democracy demonstrations that were held - and suppressed - there in 1989?

Tourists are fascinated. With its palaces, monuments, temples and museums, Beijing is the single biggest repository of Chinese history, culture and thought. Yet it is also a modern metropolis. Housing and amenities are being improved as part of a vast urban renewal program. Gleaming office towers, hotels and malls line the city's expansive boulevards. The nightlife ranges from street bazaars to Peking opera to pubs with rock singers. And food is cheap. The cuisines of almost every region of China - from spicy Hunanese dishes to Mongolian barbecues to Shandong seafood - are on offer here.

So why are some Beijingers surprised that their metropolis has been ranked Asia's 10th most livable city? "You should come over to breathe the air here," says a Chinese environment expert. "Beijing is among the 10 most polluted cities in the world." Some statistics: 30 million tons of coal burned each year, 1.4 million cars in a city of 10.8 million people, air pollutant index of 257 points (Shanghai: 173). "It's not that the city government is not willing or not trying to do something, but planners run into bigger powers," says the expert. Case in point: Beijing has long wanted steel giant Shougang to move a plant outside city limits. But the state-owned enterprise seems to have very influential backers in the central government - and it stays where it is.

Things are changing - slowly. Beijing, like Osaka, wants to host the 2008 Olympics, which could impel city fathers to make improvements. "The environment is the first issue the local government will have to tackle to get the Games," says environmental activist Fang Jing. More money may also be spent on the public transportation system. A new east-west subway line is scheduled to open in October, in time for the 50th anniversary of Communist rule in China. "Beijing would do better installing a good modern traffic-light system in combination with a digital tracking system to catch traffic offenders," suggests Johan Billow, manager of traffic systems firm Peek Asia. Police officers currently yell into megaphones urging drivers and commuters to observe traffic rules. Add street noise to the litany of complaints.

- By Anne Naham

Snapshot: The City at a glance

City AverageRank
Overall Score595210
Average Income US$6,5838,76318
State Educational Spending Per Cap/$236.21200.2214
a Ratio of House Price to Income30.62430
Hospital Beds per 1,0006.06610
Dust/Suspended Particles(ug/m3)257(g)240.73(-)
Vehicles per KM City Roads280.14224.6229
Criminal Cases per 10,0007.79816
TV Sets per 1,000123.8(h)241.69(-)

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a = Average house price divided by average annual income.
b = Household income.
c = Based on household income.
d = Officially, land cannot be bought or sold.
e = National figure.
f = U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Pollutants Standards Index.
g = Air Pollutant Index.
h = Per 100 families
i = Per 1,000 families
j = Per 75,000 people.
k = National figure, TV sets per 1,000 people.
m = % of households with TV sets.
n = Measured in Parts per Million (ppm).
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