Aging communities not too old to change

Updated: 2012-12-18 09:03

By Zhao Yinan (China Daily)

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"As the pioneering area of the reform and opening-up policy, Guangdong faces challenges posed by rapid social development, exposure to the outside world and its large, mobile population," it said.

"Several mass incidents took place in recent years, exerting enormous influence on society. They were a consequence of the negligence of social construction and management during the economic boom. Now, at a crucial phrase of acute social contradiction, Guangdong can only achieve the desired effect by working hard on both social and economic restructuring."

The urban residents' committee is a basic social unit in China's cities - grassroots, self-governing organizations that provide local services. By 2011, about 89,000 committees of this type served 691 million residents across urban China.

However, the half-century-old system has constantly fallen short of its original aim; the promotion of self-governance and of neighborhood cohesion.

"The committees nowadays are far from self-governing, not only because governments sometimes get too involved, but also because of public indifference," said Li.

He hoped the reforms will encourage the public, which has become accustomed to passively accepting whatever the government offers.

"But it does not mean the governments will not intervene. They will if a community cannot work things out for itself," he said.

However, changing established habits is never an easy task. Ye Ernu, 72, brought up the mailbox issue at a community council meeting shortly after Longzang residents' committee was restructured. Held at least once a month as a forum for public opinion, the council meeting is also part of community reform. Floor and building leaders, and members of the public, discuss the community's priorities for the following month. They also vote and can dismiss community workers, including the director of the residents' committee, if their work fails to meet expectations.

Prompted by the residents, Tang gave up waiting for help from the authorities. "I visited officials in district government departments to explain why we have to do this and asked if they could help," she said.

Tang eventually managed to obtain funds from the local post and telecommunications office. "They happened to have a small budget for maintenance of the mail system," she said. "Although it was not specifically allocated for changing mailboxes, it made no difference to the office whether the money was used on us or spent on other projects."

Ye said, "The way Tang raised the money and helped us replace the mailboxes has inspired many residents about what we can achieve in community affairs."

Garbage recycling is another challenge for old communities. A solitary trash bin served Ye's six-story apartment block, but it was too small for the garbage produced by the building's 48 households.

"The area around the bin was always filthy and the offensive odor kept people away," Ye recalled. She called a meeting and the residents decided to buy new trash bins.

"We decided to buy two bins for each floor. To prevent theft, we bought chains to lock them up. I also worked out a duty list, so each household cleans the bins according to the schedule," she said.

Li Jianchuang said the Longzang approach to problem solving is the method his office advocates.

"The operation of a community requires a lot of resources. It might be short of resources if it relied solely on governments," he said. "Resident can look to governments and companies for things they need, such as these mailboxes. And if they are sufficiently motivated, they may also solve problems by themselves, as they did by improving garbage collection."

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