Smog-hit China 'to make cities safer'

A boy with a portable device that measures air quality and an air purifier in his home in Beijing on Sunday. Beijing has issued its second red alert for smog this winter, leading to the closure of schools and factories.
A boy with a portable device that measures air quality and an air purifier in his home in Beijing on Sunday. Beijing has issued its second red alert for smog this winter, leading to the closure of schools and factories.PHOTO: REUTERS

Blueprint outlines aim to make liveable cities a key goal in aftermath of Shenzhen landslide

China has pledged to make its cities safer and more liveable even as severe smog choked its northern cities yesterday and a massive landslide hit Shenzhen on Sunday.

Urban development should focus on "creating environments where people can live in harmony with one another and nature", said a blueprint released yesterday, after the Central Urban Work Conference chaired by President Xi Jinping wrapped up on Monday.

Liveable cities should also be a central goal, it added.

"The government will take a more sophisticated approach to its urban planning and encourage enterprises and citizens to participate in creating the cities of the future," said a statement released by the official Xinhua news agency.

This was the first time that a meeting on city-building was held after one in 1978, when it focused largely on infrastructure building. Back then, only 18 per cent of the population lived in cities compared with more than 50 per cent now.

WORK ON URBAN PLANNING

The government will take a more sophisticated approach to its urban planning and encourage enterprises and citizens to participate in creating the cities of the future.

A STATEMENT, released by the official Xinhua news agency after the Central Urban Work Conference chaired by President Xi Jinping ended on Monday

But the value of the conference was also underscored yesterday as a swathe of northern China, including Hebei province which surrounds Beijing, and the city of Tianjin was hit by severe air pollution that peaked at more than 20 times the safe levels recommended by the World Health Organisation.

This is Beijing's second red alert for smog this winter, leading to the closure of schools and factories, despite repeated promises by the authorities to tackle pollution.

At the two-day meeting attended by top leaders, China vowed to make safety the top priority in its development and management of cities.

Safety awareness should permeate every aspect of urban work, said the statement, which came in the aftermath of a massive landslide on Sunday that toppled or buried dozens of buildings at an industrial park in southern Shenzhen city.

The disaster, blamed on the collapse of a mountain of construction waste dumped in the area, left one person dead and 76 missing. It was the latest in a string of deadly industrial accidents in China. In August, twin blasts rocked a warehouse storing hazardous chemicals in Tianjin, killing 173 people.

These incidents took place against the backdrop of decades of rapid economic growth that has left workplace safety standards struggling to keep up.

Yesterday, China also vowed to make its cities more inclusive. The country's urbanisation drive will better integrate rural residents into cities by granting migrant workers household registration permits, as long as they meet certain criteria, the statement said. This will give them more equal access to social services.

The authorities also aim to "largely complete" ongoing renovations of urban shanty towns and dilapidated housing by 2020. This is a crucial part of providing low-income urbanites with affordable housing, Xinhua said.

Experts said the priorities Beijing has outlined suggest that it has grasped the country's urgent need for proper urban management.

Mr Song Ding, director of the China Development Institute think- tank, told The Straits Times that cities have been damaged over the past 30 years of rapid growth, with resources under huge pressure.

"We can build fantastic skyscrapers, but we can't build proper drainage systems because 'image projects' used to be what officials cared about the most, resulting in floods even in big cities," he said.

"But Beijing has realised that safety is a fundamental concern of the people and it is encouraging that it is now taking steps to tackle this problem."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 23, 2015, with the headline 'Smog-hit China 'to make cities safer''. Print Edition | Subscribe