Sunday, February 01, 2009

Ryan Pyle Blog: The Bird's Nest to Become a Shopping District


I recently read in a widely reported news story that the whole area around the Bird's Nest, or Beijing Olympic Stadium, is set to become a shopping district.

To someone living outside of China this might seem like a decent idea, a place where people can visit a beautiful building and get some shopping out of the way at the same time. But to anyone living in China, and Beijing specifically, will know that the last thing that Beijing needs is another shopping complex.

I was in Beijing in January working and I had a free night to visit a friend who lives next to the British Embassy in the Central Business District. We walked from his place to a restaurant for a meal, and in the 20 minute walk we must have passed no less than 4 shopping malls, all built within the last 5 years, and most were half empty. Signs advertising commercial renting space were everywhere, and walking through the first floors (street level) of these malls was reminiscent of walking through an old western movie set of a town bordered up before a big shoot out.

To me, a man of basic intelligence, that would mean that in Beijing's Central Business District (CBD), home to some of the most expensive real estate and fancy shops, has overbuilt. Too much capacity for too little demand is something the Chinese government is going to start getting very used to as scores of apartment blocks sit finished and empty in some of Shanghai's prime real estate locations. What's the problem exactly?

First is I don't think anyone knows the real situation. Meaning simply that property managers, like most agencies and companies in China, have two sets of books. One set of those books may show full capacity and that rents are increasing, which is what everyone wants to hear. I have no confirmation of this, it's just a hunch based on years of experience.

My second guess for why this over capacity exists is a simple case of limited investment sophistication. It seems that the only way the Chinese government, and local companies close to the government, know how to make money is by building something and getting people to pay you rent. It's a fairly primitive approach to things but it has worked very well for the last 20 years as China's cities have grown and developed. The problem is that now that the city centers of Beijing and Shanghai are well developed, so what should the next step of investment be?

How about a park people can actually use. Beijing, and even Shanghai, are full of parks; it's true. But they aren't very user friendly, meaning that you can't sit or walk on the grass and there are fences all over the place. What I would love to see some property developer do, because the government clearly doesn't have the clarity, is to buy two massive lots of land, put a massive high complex on one lot; because that's there speciality, and on the next lot put in a park...a real park. Get some public tennis courts in there, maybe even a few soccer fields that local amateur teams and youth development leagues can rent out - add lights for us working folks so we can play well in to the night. Put in a few places were people can just lounge around on the grass and read a book. The key to this is that property located near a park, that people actually enjoying being in, will raise the property value of apartments that are close by. For example you pay more for rent if you live 2 blocks away from Central Park then 10 blocks away because people view living close to the park as advantageous. The big bottleneck is that I don't think China's government and business elite are ready for this kind of thinking.

Two of my favorite cities in the world are London and New York, and I travel to them often for work. I love London because of all it's parks and small grassy squares were people can just lounge around and relax on the grass during their lunch break or on the weekends; and I love New York for Central Park alone - a god send for anyone living in the Upper East and West sides.

So clearly what I'm saying is that instead of building a huge shopping complex maybe put in 20 outdoor (with lights) public tennis courts and 10 outdoor (with lights) grass soccer fields so that kids and adults alike can work on their game with friends and family and bask in the glorious shadows caste by the Bird's Nest and Water Cube. Also add in a few places where people can lounge around (on the grass) and spend some time catching some rays or smog.

I'm pretty passionate about this considering I don't even live in Beijing. Are there any Beijing'ers up in arms about this? Oh, that's right we wouldn't know if anyone was against this idea because there aren't any city planners, citizen groups, or neighborhood groups that would risk challenging the government. Oh the freedom!


Ryan Pyle

No comments:

Post a Comment


This is Ryan Pyle. I appreciate you adding a comment to my blog and I hope that this space has offered you something useful and interesting. I look forward to staying in touch and I'm glad you took the time to comment.

Ryan Pyle