But infrastructure can be put in place far more rapidly. The infrastructure of Asian cities such as Singapore and Hong Kong is already far ahead of Europe, the UK, and the US. It is clear that the most advanced Chinese cities are also approaching 'switchover point' - that is to their infrastructure being superior to the US and Europe.
Taking several trips around Beijing immediately prior to the Olympics confirmed just how far this process is going. Beijing is, of course, benefitting from the investment around the Olympic Games, placing it a few years ahead of other Chinese cities, but the situation is clear. The focus in this post is on the subway/tube/metro system as this is the key transport infrastructure feature of advanced cities.
Beijing opened four new subway lines, with 50 new stations, in 2008. In the last six years it has invested more than $7.69 billion (£3.35 billion) in its subway system. Given that construction costs in China are far lower than in the US or UK that figure would probably have to be doubled for an equivalent scale of investment in the US or Europe. By the middle of the next decade Beijing's will be the largest subway system in the world - overtaking New York and London. By 2015 there will be 19 lines in total and 561 km of track - compared to London's 415 km and New York's 371 km. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/olympics/2008-08/04/content_6900294.htm
After the opening of the new lines the current length of Beijing's subway system is 200km. Trains now run to both the airport and the Olympic site. Continuous improvement of the existing system is taking place with the biggest shift this year being from paper to electronic ticketing - which is essentially equivalent to London's Oyster card but which can in addition be used for taxis. Mobile phones work underground on most lines.
The Beijing authorities are explicit that their strategy in developing this system is not only efficiency but to reduce the need to use cars.
As I have travelled prevously on the old lines, which are roughly comparable in quality to the most modern parts of the London Underground such as the Victoria or Jubilee line, I therefore chose to try a new line in addition.
Ths revealed a system, at least as regards the passenger experience, clearly superior to London's Underground, New York's Subway, or Paris's Metro - transport experts are required to judge the technical capacities of the system.
The stations and trains are air conditioned and the plaforms immaculate.
The electronic indicators inside the train are somewhat superior to those on London Underground - showing to passengers not only the direction of the train but its current position.
It is also possible to select on the panel a map of the area around the station as well as other information such as the news, computer games, sport and so on.
Taken as a whole the line threfore clearly revealed standards significantly ahead of any on London Underground.
Briefly surveying other features of Beijing's infrastructural development confirmed that this was not confined to areas serving the Olympics. A trip to the imperial Summer Palace, which is not in the area of the Olympics, revealed a road network significantly superior to anything in London or New York.
There will be a separate post on Beijing's new state of the art Capital Airport.
The situation is threfore clear. The quality of the new infrastructure in Beijing is already significantly superior to that in London. The Beijing city authorities are now pursuing a coherent strategy of attempting to create a system centred on public transport and not the car. Within 10 years it is clear Beijing will have a transport infrastructure qualitatively superior not only in scale but in quality to London - with all the advantages to the efficiency of the city this will bring. Singapore and Hong Kong levels of infrastructure development, that is the best in the world, are spreading to the largest country in the world.
That shows the scale of challenge London is facing.