Interviewee: Chai Peigen, male, senior architect at the China Architecture Design & Research Institute
Place of birth: Bengbu, east China's Anhui Province
Current residence: Beijing
Cities visited: Most large and medium-sized cities in China, and foreign cities including New York, Paris, London, and Tokyo
Understanding of "Better City, Better Life": A city should have regional characteristics, a diverse population, and strong culture.
Which is the best city in my eyes? The answer varies as my identity changes. As a tourist, I am attracted to cities with beautiful scenery and historical sites. As a citizen, however, I consider Beijing as the best choice because it is where I work and live.
When I was a child, I had to travel with my parents to different cities for their work. I lived in Zaozhuang, a city in east China's Shandong Province, for 10 years, and Zibo, also a city in Shandong, for eight years. I returned to my hometown Anhui for four years of college study, and then went to Tianjin for three years of graduate study. I have now worked in Beijing for 13 years since I graduated.
I have a deeper affection toward Beijing than my hometown not only because I have lived in Beijing the longest, but also because my experience in Beijing has enriched my life. I choose to live in Beijing out of my emotional needs rather than material needs. I often have to travel to international metropolises on business, but I miss my home Beijing after staying in those materially superior cities for less than 10 days. I feel so warm enjoying the beautiful scenery on my way from Beijing Capital International Airport to downtown Beijing.
Thanks to my business trips, I have visited a lot of cities in China and abroad, experienced their respective historical and cultural backgrounds, and have thus developed my own understanding of a "better city."
To begin with, a robust city should have its own characteristics. For instance, such cities as Chengdu, Hangzhou, and Guangzhou in central and southern China can easily be distinguished from other cities by their regional characteristics.
As an architect, the last thing I want to see is that a city's protection of regional characteristics is ignored in favor of city planning. Some second- and third-tier cities are constructed in accordance with a set model of city development, and have consequently lost their identities and characteristics, reduced to stereotypical industrial bases.
Second, people make a city. One of the standards for a better city is the diversity of its people. I once stayed in New York for a week to work on a project. I was deeply impressed by the diversity of New York City, where people of different races and various cultural backgrounds share the city yet retain their respective customs and culture within their own areas, creating distinct neighborhoods.
Third, citizens' attitude toward culture plays an important role in building a "better city." The Beijing Municipal People's Congress recently proposed turning Beijing into a world-class city by taking international cities like London and Paris as models.
The cultural influence and image of London and Paris are not based solely on the British Museum, Tate Gallery, Louvre Museum, and Centre Pompidou, but more importantly, are reflected by that cultural infrastructure, which expresses the cities' attitude toward traditional culture and modern art.
The Forbidden City and the Great Wall do not account for Beijing's charm and world influence. As Beijing residents focus on houses, stock markets and salaries, they should also concentrate on their city's cultural attributes.