Passengers wait in line to enter Tiantongyuan subway station in Beijing during the morning rush hour in July.(Photo: China Daily)
The sprawling suburban neighborhood in Beijing is getting a facelift to raise living standards. Xin Wen reports.
The region to the north of Beijing's Fifth Ring Road is dominated by Tiantongyuan, an enormous neighborhood reputed to be the largest residential area in Asia that houses approximately 700,000 people.
The area, which is home to more than 3 percent of the city's population, mainly migrant workers, is nicknamed "Sleeper Town" because a lack of amenities and entertainment facilities mean most of the residents only go there to rest.
Located at the end of subway line 5, a major route connecting the downtown to the northern suburbs, Tiantongyuan attracted its huge population as a result of its low property prices and relatively convenient location.
However, its dilapidated condition is a major headache for the city and the area faces a host of problems, including a lack of infrastructure, both social and industrial, allied to heavy traffic congestion.
Priced at 2,650 yuan per square meter in 1999, Tiantongyuan was built to provide affordable housing. Nearly 20 years later, property prices in the community have risen more than fourteenfold to 38,000 yuan ($5,600) per sq m.
Covering 480,000 sq m, Tiantongyuan includes five major communities with 18 subdistricts that were built in 2000. In the first three years of the century, the population quickly rose to more than 100,000.
The family of Beijing native Du Bo moved to Tiantongyuan in 2005 because at 5,600 yuan per sq m the area was still relatively cheap.
"Our old home in Haidian district was scheduled for urgent demolition, so we had to find another place to live," the 26-year-old said.
Though the family would have preferred an apartment in the downtown, Du's parents could not afford to move to such an expensive area. The urgency of the situation meant the family of four, which included his grandfather, had no alternative but to move to the 120-sq-m, three-bedroom apartment in Tiantongyuan.
"Dirty" and "chaotic" were Du's first impressions of the neighborhood. Unlicensed traders blocked the roads, meaning people could not park their cars, and feral cats and dogs often appeared on the streets. As a result, some people simply bought apartments to rent to tenants.
Du said he has heard that in a building near his tower block, one bedroom can accommodate eight people. "It's like a dormitory at college," he said.