Civility campaign tames concrete jungle

Updated: 2013-06-03 07:59

By Hong Liang (China Daily)

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Most people living in Shanghai are convinced that this is the most civilized city on the mainland and the one that provides the highest quality of life. Although civility, a precious commodity across the mainland, is not found in abundance in Shanghai, the city has become appreciably kinder and gentler since it hosted the World Expo in 2010.

It is encouraging that the promotion of civility by the Shanghai government was not a one-off effort. Building on the improvements made during the Expo, the government has stepped up efforts to enhance civility and social harmony through public education, enforcement and infrastructure development.

Indeed, quality of life is a key issue in the government's long-term plan to re-establish Shanghai as a world city that can attract much needed talent in finance and other sectors of the service industry on which Shanghai's future is to be built. But so far, the only thing world-class in Shanghai is, perhaps, its infrastructure. The city has enough super-highways and elevated flyovers at key intersections to ensure a smooth enough traffic flow at most times of the days. There are parks and green areas aplenty. What's more, the government must be commended for its efforts in preserving many old landmark structures that are said to be burned into the collective memories of the native Shanghai people. Some of these structures, including those along the Bund area fronting the Huangpu River, are world famous. But there are also many old buildings and mansions in the old French quarter that are endearing mainly to native Shanghai people and valued by connoisseurs for their architectural quaintness.

Preservation gained the spirit of life from the proliferation of fashion boutiques, moody cafes, chic restaurants and funky art galleries frequented by the increasingly affluent and well-educated middle class families and the usual crowd of expatriates. Other than the rude cyclists and the few rowdy young men and women, that area of less than 16 square kilometers, or about 0.25 percent of Shanghai, is an oasis of civility.

The world is very different once you venture outside that enclave known for its tree-lined streets and European ambience. You really don't need to go far to be confronted by the vagaries of the concrete jungle where rudeness is a way of life and civility, a sign of weakness.

It is good to know that the government is doing something about this. At a special meeting called to address the issue earlier in May, Shanghai Party chief Han Zheng reiterated the process to establish a civic society must be consistent and systematic. He said that there was a need to step up efforts to discourage such uncivilized practices as spiting, running red lights, jaywalking and littering, which have become the norm rather than the exception. Meanwhile, new measures have to be introduced to address problems that have arisen more recently, such as the big increase in the number of ticket cheaters on the subway and the rise in cases where people are mauled by their neighbors' dogs.

These may seem trivial. But together they carry a resounding message: Shanghai is not yet ready for the big time. Compared to Hong Kong or Singapore, Shanghai is a stressful city in which to live and work.

The government, of course, has its priority. But nearly everyone I know named the hoard of electric bikes that observe no traffic rules as the most hated menace. Fixing that problem can go a long way to restoring some civility in the streets.

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