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About foul air in our fair city
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By Wang Yong

Shanghai is a lovely city except for a few bummers, such as the noise that drones on, the dust that drifts day and night and the general smog that stifles.

When I first settled in Shanghai in 2004, it wasn't nearly as noisy and the air wasn't as dirty. There were far fewer cars and construction sites. My office was dusted once a week, that was enough.

Now, every morning when I enter the office, I see a thin layer of dust everywhere on window sills, the computer, desk, books, telephone, tea cup.

As I sit and read newspapers, I can detect the faint but persistent smell of dust. Now I clean my office every day and the next day it's dusty again.

Certainly some of the dust comes from construction sites related to the World Expo 2010, for example, roads, new structures and buildings that are being revamped. But those projects are one-off and will close in one year.

And there's every reason to believe that World Expo-related construction will largely make Shanghai a better city for residents in the long run.

What makes me nervous is something else: Will Shanghai continue to be dusty and noisy after World Expo-related projects are completed?

A huge construction site recently sprang up below our office building, which is quite far from the World Expo venue. And yesterday I moved into a new rental apartment only to find it bombarded by noise from quite a few construction sites where work goes on late into the night.

In 2004, I wrote that I had finally escaped the sand storms in Beijing where I had lived for about 20 years and was now able to enjoy the sometimes comfortably humid weather of Shanghai. Five years have passed and dust, though not sand storms yet, has enveloped the city.

In 2007, the Shanghai government required high walls to be erected around construction sites within five meters of residential communities to keep the dust from blowing everywhere.

But how high is high enough? The huge construction site below my window is bordered on four sides by apartments and is surrounded by walls about the height of an adult. Can these walls keep dust from permeating residences?

As if the dust isn't bad enough, construction workers often weld wildly in the open although Shanghai forbids the use of welding machines in the open.

And traffic noise from Yan'an Elevated Road batters my office every day during work.

But the problem isn't just the noise.Last month, Xinhua news agency quoted Shanghai meteorologists as saying that auto emissions are causing more and more smog.

Since 2000, meteorologists said, the air in Shanghai is smoggy for one-third of the year. On a smoggy day, breathing isn't just unpleasant, it's unhealthy and bad for the lungs.

Better city, better life that's the World Expo theme. And Shanghai will definitely become a better city if the number of cars and construction sites is reduced.

In this sense, less is better.

(Shanghai Daily April 30, 2009)

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