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Hot, uncluttered Bund is better without eyesore umbrellas
2013-08-12
By Doug Young

THE endless summer heat wave has taken over Shanghai for more than a month now, monopolizing everything from the latest headlines to ordinary conversation. The guard at my building invariably greets me each day with his latest comments on the heat, and many conversations with friends start the same way.

The heat has also made many people’s patience run thin, which was why I was happy to see the latest news that cooler heads had prevailed in a recent debate over whether to provide more shady spots on the Bund.

The debate was relatively short, with Shanghai officials refusing to yield to public complaints of too much sun in the Bund’s vast open spaces and calls to set up more shady spots.

Before I go any further, I should say I completely sympathize with people suffering from too much sun. In the current heat wave, standing in direct sunlight has become a kiss of death, causing the already hot weather to become unbearable.

I regularly alter my path to avoid having to walk in the sun, crossing the street or even choosing a completely different route to avoid dreaded direct sunlight.

Down on the Bund such alterations are difficult, since the big pedestrian area lacks trees or other major coverings to provide any shade. Even the Bund’s line of stately buildings aren’t much help, since they only provide shade in the late afternoon.

Despite tourist complaints about the heat, city officials took a firm stand and said they won’t be providing any extra shady spots for Shanghai’s most famous landmark.

Public complaints

They gave a few reasons for their decision, saying umbrellas or other shade-providing objects would pose a safety hazard. They also said such objects would spoil the view.

In an effort to make life more comfortable, mist sprayers were installed to provide outdoor air-conditioning.

Here I must commend the city for not surrendering to the public complaints, as I could easily imagine the havoc and clutter that umbrellas and other shade-producing objects would create. They would instantly become people magnets, attracting clumps of tourists into their shadows and creating unruly crowds.

Umbrellas would also become a major eyesore on the Bund, which has successfully been cleared of most major clutter to create a pleasant wide-open space with plenty of room for walking and sweeping views of both the old buildings on the west and the skyline of modern towers in Lujiazui.

That lack of clutter is relatively rare today in China, where any popular tourist site is inevitably filled with a hodgepodge of carts, photo takers, vendors and other temporary structures staffed by noisy hawkers.

The kind of complaints that led the city to say “no” have become all too common in China, fueled in big part by the rapid rise of the Internet. It’s hard to find a news story about anything controversial these days that doesn’t include at least one or two complaining posts.

A quick search on weibo brought up a typical example, with one tourist complaining how she was forced to suffer on her recent visit to the Bund due to lack of shade.

The complaints certainly aren’t limited to the Bund and Shanghai. A quick scan of another recent newspaper revealed that a group of kung fu artists who demonstrated their skills on grasslands in western China came under attack from netizens who said they were too commercial. Similar critiques abound, directed at everything from corrupt officials to unpopular policies, excessive commercialism and many minor grievances.

In many ways such complaints and commentaries are healthy, providing feedback that might otherwise be unavailable for government officials and other leaders. But I sometimes feel this culture of complaining goes to excess, with people often voicing criticism simply because they can. Some complainers become online bullies, since others under attack often worry about negative fallout if they take action.

That all brings us back to my original subject, which is my praise for the city government for having the backbone to say “no” to online bullies and do what’s best for the Bund instead. If the complainers really want to get out of the sun, they should go for walks on some of the city’s many tree-lined streets that create natural leafy canopies.

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