Aging communities not too old to change

Updated: 2012-12-18 09:03

By Zhao Yinan (China Daily)

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Mailbox maladies

Age, both that of the residents and the infrastructure, is the community's biggest problem, said Tang Huiming, director of Longzang residents' committee. Nearly one-fourth of Longzang's 4,700 residents are aged 60 or older, far higher than the 13.7 percent national average. The buildings were constructed more than two decades ago and the mailboxes are rusting away.

Residents have complained for years about damage to important letters, but their repeated calls for the district government to allocate a budget for mailbox replacement went unheeded.

"About 200 mailboxes are really badly corroded," Tang said. "Letters are stained with rust, soaked by rain or even go missing."

But replacing the boxes could cost 30,000 yuan ($4,810), a small fortune for Tang's committee. "We hoped the local government would help, but it didn't, probably because of a lack of funds, or perhaps they simply didn't realize how important mailboxes are for seniors. There are a considerable number of people here who still write letters by hand," she said.

The mailboxes reflect a recurrent dilemma in community management, according to Li Jianchuang, deputy director of Yuexiu district social affairs committee.

Aging communities not too old to change

Elderly residents in the Yuexiu district of Guangzhou, Guangdong province, enjoy a neighborhood canteen, part of social work reform in the city. [Photo/Xinhua]

"On the one hand, the government offers what officials believe is important and useful to the people. But on the other, people may never get what they really need," he said.

As he originally trained as a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine, Li said he sees similarities between the two jobs, because both seek an inner balance.

"A TCM practitioner coordinates a patient's yin and yang. Community management is similar in some respects," he said.

To change the government-led style of working, Li's office encourages residents to speak out about community affairs, and has provided conditions for them to do so.

Urban residents' committees have been freed from government-assigned work - which is passed on to a sub-district office - and can focus on offering services and overseeing the local community instead.

In a written response to China Daily, the provincial committee of social affairs approved Li's trial and said this sort of reform is necessary as society develops.

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