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Beijing rules out post-Games livability setback, despite challenges ahead
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21:29, September 01, 2008

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As the Chinese capital hosts its second extravaganza, the Paralympics, less than a month after the Olympic Games, local authorities admit their promise of a "New Beijing, Great Olympics" is only half complete.

An implication of the slogan, barely noticed by the world since its proposal seven years ago, as deputy chief Tan Zhimin of the Beijing City Building Headquarter Office for 2008 revealed to Xinhua, was that the "Great Olympics" had been conceived as a way to lead to the "New Beijing."

"It is impossible and will not be allowed should the city go backward in livability because citizen expectations are already driven up by the Olympics and the demand for further social and economic development."

In 2005, Tan's office was entrusted by the Beijing Municipal government to orchestrate a city facelift. This involved coordinating more than 20 governmental departments in time for the sporting spectacular that was being hosted by the Chinese people for the first time.

Tan said the government would continue to explore and experience the inconveniences plaguing the public after the Olympics and work on the imperfections with circumspection.

Calling citizens "the source of city vitality," he said the goal of a more livable Beijing could not be realized without respecting the opinions of citizens.

From subsistence, entertainment, recreation to transport, a raft of issues needed to be tackled. These included air quality, transport, garbage and sewage disposal facilities, as well as green space and emergency shelters in case of severe natural disasters, he said.

Though detailed measures were yet to be released by the municipal government, Tan said the "New Beijing" theme would run through the tenure of the current government headed by mayor Guo Jinlong.

"We knew this is a long-term task. That's why we seek a permanent cure rather than symptomatic relief in preparations for the Olympics."

LESS RED TAPE

For deputy manager Lin Zhiwei of the environmental construction coordination department of the headquarter office, the charm of the Olympics is not in "its grandiosity" but "its parallel to force majeure."

As governments, both at the central and municipal levels, have summoned all resources available to honor the promise of a "Great Olympics," even grassroots governmental staffers were aware the Olympics-related work stood at the top of the daily agenda. "This has turned the Olympics into a giant impetus to end buck-passing culture and curb red-tape bureaucracy," Lin said.

On Yuegezhuang Bridge, across the Fourth Ring Road in western Beijing, the dangerous but frequent sight of hawkers moving between stopped automobiles to distribute advertising leaflets finally disappeared several months ahead of the Olympics.

Shadow boxing has long been played. The parapolice, responsible for illegal business on the streets, refused to handle it in the first place, arguing it happened on trunk roads where traffic police were posted.

Traffic police took over the enforcement only to bite their nails after failing to find any legal basis to penalize the hawkers. Recognizing some of these distributors of business cards,flyers, maps and driving accessories, among others, were minors, they kicked the ball to the civil service departments who acknowledged their duty to take care of those under-aged. But theyalso asserted their jurisdiction was confined only to relief stations.

The real reason behind the nonfeasance by the parapolice, Lin noted, was that enforcing laws on highways risked triggering car accidents, which might have injured or killed the hawkers and in turn, brought trouble to the law enforcers.

Following a field survey and mediation that took months, Lin and his team figured out a solution where police officers would remove the hawkers away from the traffic first. Parapolice would then step in to issue fines for adults or to escort minors to relief stations run by civil service agencies.

To cut red-tape bureaucracy, the headquarter office also drafted dozens of rules to tackle grey areas. These included highway leafleting and clarifying the duties of different departments in the city facelift, ranging from environmental protection, Hutong refurbishment, greening, street make-over to the setting of public facilities on sidewalks.

All approved by local legislatures, the rules have significantly slashed the administrative costs from "one case, one meeting," said Professor Wang Wei of the China National School of Administration. He foresaw a ripple effect from the Olympics on the country's governmental institution reform.

"After seven years of preparations, most governmental departments felt it a mission impossible to build the 'New Beijing' without support from other departments," Wang said. "They recognized the significance of cooperation and came to know the good of it."

Framed under the planned economy abandoned 30 years ago, the Chinese administrative managing system, though having undergone constant adjustment, was still being diagnosed as micro-managing the economy. There was low efficiency from overlapping responsibilities or power not being matched by responsibilities, and public services ridden by departmental interests.

Recognizing the headquarter office as a "test run" for the country's giant department organization reform at the local level, Professor Wang said if the Beijing Municipality had the guts to push forward the reform for a local government offering better and more efficient public services in seven to eight years, locals would reap a precious legacy from the Olympics.

MORE THAN FACE-CONCERNED

For first-time visitors to Beijing, what undoubtedly caught their eye was the gorgeous Olympic venues, such as the Bird's Nest National Stadium and raft of new high-rises. For locals and others familiar with the city, however, more subtle changes came from renovated airports and railway stations, shopping districts, roads to the Olympic Village and venues and residential buildings facing the streets.

Fully aware these projects had been interpreted as "face-saving projects" by the public, planner Tan admitted the Chinese were indeed face-concerned. "When it comes to the Olympic preparations and the building of a 'New Beijing,' however, it's more than a matter of face-saving."

Tan said the municipality hoped to use the Olympic opportunity to benefit local residents. In total, residents in 171 "villages" within Beijing's Fourth Ring Road moved out of the seedy areas and got better accommodations. This involved more than 6.97 million square meters and cost the government 15.5 billion yuan (about 2.27 billion U.S. dollars).

"We don't want the public to sacrifice for the Olympics, it's never our intention," he said.

Before the removal, it was a common sight for families of three generations to live under one crowded roof, with no shower at home and the restroom several minutes' walk away. Now, at new residences away from their former home site, the elders can use their own toilets while kids can read in their own bedrooms.

There were other residents who didn't need to move. In 600 hutongs or alleys inside the Second Ring Road, all apartments have been refurbished, the walls and doors renovated in the style of early last century. Even roads were repaved.

Song Xiulan who had been living in the Shoushuihe hutong in Xicheng District for more than 40 years couldn't recognize her home. Pointing at her apartment equipped with new kitchenware and floor, she said it was the Olympics that brought her the "good fortune."

"Look at the glowing faces of Beijingers on the streets. The vigor comes from the bottom of their heart and their confidence of their life getting better," said academic Wang. He identified the rising awareness of the public in city building and environment as another precious legacy of the Games.

Soon after the closure of the Olympics, more than 400,000 Beijingers joined an online discussion about whether to keep a pre-Games car ban. Nearly half supported a permanent car restriction -- an alternating odd-even license plate system from July 20. Others, mostly car owners, understandably opposed.

Another random survey released by the headquarter office revealed 21 percent of the 6,009 polled households were still unsatisfied with the city's livability in the second quarter, the lowest response since the survey was launched a year earlier.

They expected the government to solve problems such as construction noise at night, unlicensed businesses, illegitimate construction, open-air barbecues and leafleting. Garbage collection, street cleaning and public restroom maintenance, however, were viewed as "improving a lot."

"Without the participation and understanding of the citizens, the New Beijing dream would be utopia," Tan said. "The municipality should seize on the legacies left by the Olympics on its management system and the public to march forward."

Source:Xinhua



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