Tree-planting project sways to public opinion

Updated: 2012-04-20 08:02

By Xie Chuanjiao in Qingdao, Shandong and Zheng Xin in Beijing (China Daily)

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Tree-planting project sways to public opinion

Residents trim trees in the economic development zone in Qingdao, Shandong province, in March. Yu Fangping / for China Daily

The Qingdao city government has vowed to improve the way it handles public feedback following claims that it ignored complaints about a controversial tree-planting project.

In an online apology, the government acknowledged it had communicated poorly with residents about the initiative - part of preparations for hosting the 2014 World Horticultural Exposition - and welcomed suggestions from residents.

Qingdao, on the east coast of Shandong province, launched a grand tree-planting project in March. With a budget of 1.1 billion yuan ($174 million), it aims to decorate 152 roads stretching 69.1 kilometers, renew 667 hectares of greenbelt, and plant more than 11 million trees and shrubs.

The project was carried out at an unprecedented rate, with an estimated 1.8 million trees planted in March alone.

However, the project triggered an intense debate among local residents and Internet users dissatisfied over the lack of hearings or soliciting of public opinions before such a huge project.

The plan also sparked debate over whether the funds were well distributed and the forestation was carried out scientifically.

Some residents have said that destroying long-standing areas of grassland while planting trees is a waste of public money.

Gao Jun, 24, a Qingdao resident, grew up near Huiquan Square Grassland, which the government plans to replace with trees. He said removing the lawn would eradicate memories of many generations.

The square's greenery is considered the city's "National Mall", offering a century-old playground for locals and tourists to hang out.

"Greening the city is fine with me, but I don't see any point in destroying the lawn where I played football with my friends during childhood," he said.

Gao was also concerned about the effect on apartments with sea views by planting trees along the shore.

"Hopefully housing prices won't be affected," he said.

According to the bureau, the project had some flaws in planning, rather than in transparency.

Zhang Hui, a student at Beijing Forestry University, said despite the government's good intentions, research and evaluation on the selection of tree species and public opinion are necessary, especially for a coastal city like Qingdao.

"Only trees that are salt tolerant and wind resistant can survive when planted along the sea," said Zhang. "It's necessary that the project goes through experiments and reviews before being applied."

"No one wants to see so many trees die shortly after being planted," he added.

Whether it is suitable to cover the city with trees on a large scale, Zhang said all local conditions should be taken into consideration before rushing to a conclusion.

"It's only reasonable if the government replaces water-consuming lawns with drought-tolerant trees," he said.

Feng Yongfeng, founder of Green Beagle, an environmental protection NGO based in Beijing, said the reaction was a credit to the people of Qingdao.

"It is our right, as well as responsibility, to participate in and monitor the decisions of public affairs."

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Zhu Xun and Huang Yaning contributed to this story.