Beijing struggles with pollution, gridlock as 2008 Olympics approach

China has promised to throw a “green” Olympics in Beijing in 2008 — but simple livability may be the megacity’s bigger challenge. Beijing has 15.2 million inhabitants; if current trends hold, that number could grow to 21 million by 2020. Gridlock is endemic, as the number of cars more than doubled in the past six years. Already-bad air quality is deteriorating. The city’s water supply is so overtaxed that some experts are calling for rationing. City officials are racing to replace thousands of old, stinky public toilets, while over a hundred construction projects related to the upcoming Olympics are hurtling forward. Critics blame decades of bad urban-planning policy for the city’s problems. “In the past, we never thought of the capacity of resources,” said Huang Yan, Beijing’s deputy director of planning. “We only focused on development.” She’s introduced a master plan that includes the bold goal of rendering Beijing “a city suitable for living.”