The World Expo 2010 is widely regarded as a cultural and technological Olympics. In Shanghai, it is also prompting a campaign for a massive cleanup.
Since a year ago, the city has started to re-landscape its green pockets, dismantle thousands of outdoor billboards and bulldoze illegal buildings to greet the Expo.
That is clearly not enough for a city that is keen to present its best face for the world. Just a few days ago, the municipal government announced nine local regulations aimed at making Shanghai look even nicer in front of some 70 million visitors expected during the six-month extravaganza, which will open in May next year.
The distracting video screens on buses and taxis, the advertise-ments posted on electric poles and other public areas, and the random discharge of construction waste - all are sources of frequent public complaints and have been targeted under the regulations. The regulations promise severe penalties for violators.
The announcement of the nine regulations should be hailed as a move to make Shanghai a more civilized city and a better place to live and work.
What is troubling is that all the nine regulations are only temporary, all of which will expire on Dec 31, 2010, two months after the closing ceremony of the Expo.
Several regulations announced last week are also the same or slightly revised versions of earlier ones, which had not been enforced effectively for years.
So the question is: Will a more stringent penalty help reduce drastically the number of violators, or will regulations that had been publicly ignored finally show its efficacy during the Expo?
And if the video screens in buses and taxi screens are considered visual and audio pollution, why don't we ban these altogether in public areas instead of just during the Expo?
The Shanghai regulations are best interpreted as last-ditch attempts after so many previous endeavors failed to eradicate bad behavior such as spitting and littering in public places.
For years, GDP-oriented governments overlooked public grievances over pollution caused by those video screens in buses and elevator lobbies. And we all know that it is not likely bad habits are kicked overnight.
So what is truly important is that the Shanghai government makes sure these regulations remain effective even after the Expo and be enforced strictly.
This might be one of the best legacies for Shanghai.
(China Daily April 14, 2009)