OPINION> Chen Weihua
Shanghai: All that glitters is not gold
By Chen Weihua (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-01-17 08:19

Some 400,000 residents of Shanghai woke up to a rude shock on Wednesday morning. Their taps had run dry after a pump room in a local water plant got flooded due to leaks and equipment failure.

People spent their day stocking up on mineral water, while the authorities flagged off 71 water tankers to rescue parched throats.

The next day's newspapers were full of pictures of residents, carrying buckets, standing in long queues for water.

The supply of tap water actually resumed by midnight. It took 17 hours of hectic repair work, after city and district leaders, attending the city's People's Congress session, swiftly intervened.

The local government's quick reaction and urgency to solve the problem though is commendable, the breakdown of the system only reminds us of the ill-equipped infrastructural facilities in the city's suburban areas and old neighborhoods.

The flooded pump room at the Songjiang No. 2 Water Plant does not have a drainage system powerful enough to handle such a flood, reflecting a fundamental flaw in its design. In fact, many people in Songjiang witnessed similar water cuts last October and in early 2004.

The news programs on STV channel at 6pm is full of local residents grumbling about low water pressure, gas or water pipe leaks, bumpy roads, overflowing drainage system, mountains of garbage left to rot or even worms gushing out with water from their taps.

If the glitzy skyline in riverside Lujiazui, posh bar street in Xintiandi and futuristic Maglev, leading to the modern Pudong airport, give people the impression of a trendy Shanghai rivaling major international cities in the world, then the city's old quarters may well remind us of an altogether different city, forgotten and left behind during Shanghai's supersonic modernization.

Senior citizens, who make up 20 percent of the city's population, have to play cards outdoors in the freezing winters or scorching summers. A pleasant indoor place for these grandparents to sit and mingle lacks in most local communities.

The few small parks in the city are always overcrowded with old folks doing their morning exercises or chatting about, making us wonder, why could the authorities not build more parks in areas that are to be razed.

If you get a bird's-eye-view of Shanghai from the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, what you'll find missing from the city's landscape is the color green - trees that are soothing to the eyes, minds and lungs.

The picture is even gloomier if you happen to step inside migrant workers' dorms, which are overcrowded, smelly and filthy. And ironically, the people living inside are responsible for the city's futuristic skyline, spacious apartments and subways.

Education for their children is also far from adequate. And without a hukou - permanent residency permit - they are often treated like "illegal immigrants" in their own country.

It's laudable that the Shanghai government has met such phenomenal success in improving the city's infrastructure, which didn't get any investment from the 1950s to the 1970s.

But the government should pay more attention to the underprivileged.

The huge amount of investment that would be used to build the extended Maglev line and the 632-m tall Shanghai Center could be better utilized for planting trees, building more facilities for senior citizens, upgrading water pipes and other infrastructural facilities in old neighborhoods.

"Better City, Better Life"- Shanghai's motto for the 2010 World Expo can only become a true reality when its old neighborhoods can look up at the newly built flashy skyline and not feel too small, and too old.


(China Daily 01/17/2009 page4)