Beijing Better-Off Year After Olympics?

This story was filed by CBS News correspondent Celia Hatton in Beijing.

(AP Photo/Andy Wong)
One year ago, Beijing was full to the brim. Athletes from all over the world filled the airport, tourists clutching maps crowded the subways and, of course, Chinese police watched over the capital from every street corner.

Rumors about the opening ceremony swirled around office water coolers and down onto the city's traditional alleyways ("There will be fireworks in the shape of dragons!"). The 2008 Summer Olympics was about to start, though no one knew whether the Chinese government would be able to pull it off.

365 days later, few can argue the Olympics weren't a huge success for China's organizational mavens. The two-week event broke television ratings records. Dire warnings of heavy pollution failed to come true as the city basked in blue skies, allowing athletes like Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt to break records of their own.

But how is life for those still living in Beijing, a city that was radically overhauled for the Games?

"The air quality is much better now than before. Heavy industry factories moved away and there are still limits on the number of cars allowed on the streets," says Li Lihua, 46, who lives near Beijing's Olympic volleyball grounds.

Air quality experts from the Chinese government argue that in the past six months, Beijing enjoyed the most "blue sky days" it's seen in nine years.

Others aren't so sure: the U.S. Embassy in Beijing has installed its own air quality monitor. Hourly reports consistently rate the air "hazardous" or, on a better day, "very unhealthy."

Air purifier salesmen continue to do brisk business.

The prices of many things, from restaurant meals to real estate, went up before the Games and, in many cases, haven't returned to Earth.

"High housing prices are a big problem for average people," complains a bus ticket collector. "Getting an apartment for my kid will definitely be a headache."

But 83-year-old Li Zhang says he's seen a permanent positive change in the city, at least for people in his age group.

"Old [people] don't need to pay for transportation or park tickets since the Olympics," he grins. "And more people offer seats to us now."

The 2008 Games solidified Beijing's reputation as a major player, one that deserves to compete on the world stage and, perhaps, even though the party is over, that intangible sense of city pride was worth every moment of uncertainty.

  • Celia Hatton

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