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On some occasions it feels like the sky is truly falling
By Doug Young

This week’s Street View takes us off the street and into the air to examine a couple of recent news stories involving objects that caused damage or even death after falling from apartment buildings.

My description of these objects as “falling” is somewhat generous, since in at least one case, and possibly both, the objects were carelessly thrown from buildings by people who had little or no concern for consequences their actions might cause.

More broadly speaking, this kind of action is an extension of the litterbug phenomenon, which sees some people often treat our streets and sidewalks as a garbage bin for their cigarette butts, empty drink containers and other unwanted things. The problem has certainly improved over the last decade, in no small part thanks to a major public awareness campaign about pollution in general.

But the falling objects stories do show that littering continues to plague our city. This particular twist on the littering phenomenon also reflects China’s rapid modernization that has led to the widespread building of high-rise apartments to house our city’s millions of local and migrant residents. So many people living higher in the air, together with the littering habits of some, has combined to create this problem.

The first case I read about was actually quite light-hearted because of the way it was handled. That case saw a man from Minhang District discover one day that his car windshield had been cracked by a flower pot that fell from an upper floor in the residential building where he lived.

He called the police, but they couldn’t identify which apartment the flower pot fell from. When no one would confess, the man took his claim to court, which eventually ordered the residents of 26 apartments that could have been the source of the flower pot to collectively pay 1,700 yuan (US$275) to repair the car’s windshield.

The second case was far more serious, which saw a man killed after being struck by a bottle tossed from an apartment building in Huangpu District. The victim, an 85-year-old man, was in a park playing cards with his friends at the time and died a day later from his injuries.

We’ll never know if the first case of the flower pot was deliberate or an accident caused by wind, since no one ever confessed to the act. In the second case the man who threw the bottle was later arrested and said he did so after arguing with his wife and never intended to hurt anyone.

Of course, many of the people who do this kind of thing probably lived in low-rise or single-story buildings up until recently, meaning their objects would have done much less damage when thrown from a window. But regardless, there’s really no excuse for carelessly tossing objects out of windows, no matter if you’re on the ground floor or living in the penthouse of a building.

This “falling objects” phenomenon isn’t unique to the mainland, and was a big problem as well when I was living in Hong Kong in the 1990s. I can still recall the amusement that my foreign friends and I got from a public service advertisement at that time, showing a TV plunging through the air after being tossed out of a high floor of an apartment building. The ad ended with the sound of a crash and the stern message: “Falling Objects Kill.”

Let’s be more considerate

In the case of Hong Kong, the rapid building of high-rises is even more pronounced than in Shanghai, and many of the people who carelessly tossed objects from their windows probably also lived in low-rises or single-level buildings in the not-too-distant past.

This falling objects phenomenon is part of a larger one that sees people often bring habits from rural areas to big cities like Shanghai, even though such habits might not be appropriate for such a big and densely populated area.

Earlier this year I wrote about the annual Spring Festival custom of setting off fireworks, which continue to be a fun and harmless way to welcome the Lunar New Year in China’s many small villages.

But such fireworks become a completely different phenomenon in a big and densely populated city like Shanghai, creating deafening noise, huge smoke clouds and even fires and injuries due to the high density of people and buildings in such an urban landscape.

The bottom line is that when you’re living in a crowded environment like Shanghai, you need to become more considerate about how your actions like littering or talking loud on your cellphone might affect the people around you.

That said, perhaps it’s time for a public service campaign like the 1990s one in Hong Kong, using serious themes and humor to show people that throwing garbage into a trash can is more sanitary and certainly safer than tossing it out the window.

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