An increase in free parks in Shanghai might be pleasant, but they bring with them their own problems.
There are already 122 free parks for citizens to enjoy.
But visitors are often hassled by beggars and fortune-tellers, and put off by the smell of urine left behind by someone using the grass as a toilet.
"I'm proud of our numerous free parks, but it would be better if the ugly phenomena could be stopped," said an elderly Shanghai man in Huaihai Park off the bustling Huaihai Road.
Law and order in free parks are also worrying the city's park operators.
"According to local regulations on park operations, we cannot take any mandatory measures on those who do indecent things in parks except to try to persuade them to stop," said Gao Xiangwei, an official with the Shanghai Landscape Administration Bureau.
"The regulations were laid out many years ago and many parts are not in line with the need for maintenance of the increasing number of free parks," said Gao. Patrols could be introduced to help park managers.
On April 1, Shanghai opened 23 new free parks, bringing the total number of such parks to 122.
A lack of cash has also hindered park operations, according to Gao.
The local government has allowed for subsidies to cover the cost of not charging for tickets, but attendance is often more than expected, adding to maintenance and security costs, said Gao.
Many parks manage to be self-supporting by running businesses such as convenient stores and cafeterias. Some also rent out areas to companies who want to do outdoor promotions.
But parks are selective over business activities, according to Gao.
"The bottom line is that parks should be comfortable places for visitors and should not be turned into outdoor markets," he said.
As well as not charging for tickets, parks are cutting back on staff, having a few staff members for daily operations. Most construction and maintenance jobs are commissioned to enterprises through public bidding, according to Gao.
"In this way we can evaluate costs in a transparent and economical way," said Gao.
So far, more than 12,000 citizens are working as volunteers to help with park operations in Shanghai, he noted.
Shanghai has spent more than 3 per cent of its GDP on environmental protection in recent years. Its heavy expenditure in landscaping also paid off as it won the "National Garden City" award last year.
Shanghai's goal is to increase its green area to 12 square metres per capita. It now has more than 17 million permanent residents.
Source: China Daily