What the Big Air Olympics site has to say about China’s smog problem

(Bloomberg) — When Eileen Gu landed a perfect 1620 double left to win gold in the women’s freestyle big air at the Beijing Olympics, her performance drew attention to the unusual surroundings. What was a snowy ski ramp doing next to a multitude of ovens and gigantic cooling towers?

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No, the competition did not take place in a nuclear power plant. The venue is adjacent to a disused steel mill, once a source of national pride – and a major contributor to Beijing’s legendary smog. How a massive polluter became an Olympic site is also a story of China’s efforts to renovate cities and its struggles to tackle air pollution and reach net zero.

The furnaces and cooling towers behind the world’s first major permanent site emitted toxic smoke. Built for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, the ‘Shougang Big Air’ sits on the Capital Steel Campus in western Beijing, once one of China’s largest steelmaking centers.

The park’s transition began long before preparations for the Winter Olympics. Capital Steel, also known as Shougang, began relocating its operations from Beijing to neighboring Hebei province in 2005 as the government moved dozens of polluting factories out of the capital to ensure blue skies for workers. 2008 Summer Olympics. When Capital Steel moved, it took 18,000 tonnes of air pollutants a year with it, or about 20% of the hazardous particles that gave the city one of the worst grades in the world. air to the world.

Olympic host cities are generally criticized for overbuilding, as well as the waste and carbon generated by hosting a mega international event. As part of its promise to host a green Winter Olympics, Beijing has relied on existing venues, including Shougang Park. After the Games, the platform will be retained as a permanent installation. The park now also hosts the office of the Winter Olympics Committee.

Built on the existing buildings at the site, “The ‘Big Air’ presents a perfect combination of urban industrial heritage and Olympic culture,” said Li Sen, an official with the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. 2022 winter season. “The site is an example of sustainable development.

When not in use for the Olympics, Shougang Park is an 860-hectare tourist attraction with chic cafes and bookstores nestled among old tubes and ladders. The industrial vibe has made it a popular backdrop for social media sharing. C40, a non-profit climate network, identified Shougang Park as a “climate positive development program” – the only case from China.

Capital Steel’s decision was more mixed for its new neighbors. Tangshan in Hebei Province has seen an influx of jobs with the installation of all the polluting factories and is now the largest steel center in the world. He also inherited Beijing’s air pollution. While the capital is no longer among the 20 most polluted cities in China, Tangshan makes the list every year.

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