Why English-style village shops are popping up in rural China and how the hutongs of Beijing may be given a reprieve. Plus, the latest figures on who is living the longest.
Which cities are setting the benchmarks for quality of life?
Los Angeles. It is a big city with a population of 3.8 million but the local community has a degree of autonomy. I would like to introduce a committee system whereby citizens decide local issues for themselves.
Where’s falling behind?
I’d have to say Japan because citizens don’t have the freedom to make decisions related to their communities.
Do we need to bring back craft and manufacturing to our cities?
Nagoya is a manufacturing city. Even in the Edo period, people here were making karakuri ningyo [wind-up dolls]. In modern times, the auto, textile and ceramic industries have all been developed in this area. A recession like this damages our industries but I believe that manufacturing is crucial to the revival of the economy and the development of service industries.
Which cities are beacons for environmental progress?
Nagoya will lead Japan. COP10 [Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity] will be held here in October 2010. For this occasion, I’m trying to make Nagoya a city that coexists with nature, one in which small rivers are brought back to life and people don’t need air-conditioners.
If you could move to another city, where would you go?
Nagoya is the best. It will be my final resting place.
What’s your favourite pleasure in the city?
Drinking shochu and going to the sauna.
In China’s impoverished countryside, the route to prosperity is to head to the city, where even dangerous or menial work holds the promise of money to send home to the family. But even China’s fast-growing cities cannot absorb the 18 million people a year who arrive, and authorities fear the growing gap between rich city dwellers and poor rural farmers will destabilise the country.
Their latest effort to address this is a network of thousands of rural government-sponsored shops, or nong jia dian, stocking everything from food to household appliances.
“It’s like an English village shop, it’s a valuable focal point for people to go to,” says Paul French, chief China analyst for Access Asia.
Some 150,000 new subsidised shops are to be added by year’s end to an existing network of 260,000 stores, run by major Chinese retailers or local entrepreneurs.
The shops are meant to improve villagers’ quality of life while encouraging them to spend money close to home. Even though rural incomes are modest, with almost 800 million living in rural areas, the potential is huge. — CW
Country matters – other rural improvements:
Discounts: A voucher programme giving rural Chinese families a 13 per cent rebate on household appliances and car purchases.
Better salaries: Financial incentives encourage graduates to accept jobs outside urban centres.
Loans: State banks lend more to help small companies stay afloat and to support start-ups.
Infrastructure: Upgrading roads and railway links to more far-flung regions.
The vast numbers of empty steel-and-glass towers on Beijing’s skyline are a developer’s night-mare – but a relief to owners of the remaining traditional alleyway houses in their shadows.
Space for many of the skyscrapers that have gone up in recent years was made by pulling down Beijing’s hutong houses – the single-storey family dwellings that made the city’s alleys into close, small communities.
Now that construction has slowed down and skyscrapers are struggling with vacancy rates of 25 to 50 per cent, people such as Matthew Hu, an adviser to the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Centre, are happy. “That will definitely be good news for the protection of the hutongs,” says Hu. “The government is putting stricter standards on which land can be developed for high-rises inside the city.”
But recession stimulation packages mean that there are plans for a lot more infrastructure changes in Beijing. Hutongs will have to defend themselves from those now instead.
Women in Japan can now expect to live to 86, according to the latest WHO figures. That’s longer than anywhere else. The longest men can expect to last is to 81, but only if they live in San Marino. Other nations are catching up, as they end wars and take better care of people.
Japan has an urban population of 27 million inhabitants at risk from rising sea levels, more than the urban population at risk in North America, Australia and New Zealand combined.