Nothing beats foot power in efforts to upgrade communities
Foot power remains a potent force in tackling community problems, even in this era of impersonal high-tech gadgets such as smart sensors. Just ask the downtown subdistrict of Yichuan in Shanghai.
The subdistrict in Putuo District has marshalled officials to use their shoe leather to hear local grievances and try to come up with solutions.
The system has worked. It has helped in the renovation of old houses, aided the crackdown on illegal jerry-built structures and assisted in the cleanup of the riverbank.
Subdistrict and neighborhood committee officials walked around the 2.2-square-kilometer subdistrict by some 40,000 times since the "by foot" campaign was launched in May 2019.
“Despite the one-stop website and other online services, personal communications are still essential to the community work,” said Meng Xiaoqing, director of the Huayin Neighborhood Committee of the subdistrict.
She clocks her walks at averaging 20,000 steps a day to visit residents’ homes and talk with locals. Thanks to her personal efforts, all 68 households of residents living in two old residential buildings built half a century ago have agreed to move out temporarily to make way for major renovation work.
Every two households in the five-story buildings were sharing a toilet. The renovation will rebuild the internal structure of the buildings to provide each household with their own toilet. Two elevators will also be installed to help elderly residents who can’t navigate staircases. The government will cover the whole rehabilitation cost.
When the subdistrict began soliciting feedback last year on the renovation plan, only half of the households signed up to move out. Some complained the makeover would hardly expand their living space and would require costly interior decoration.
"I've spent a large sum of money on my ground-floor apartment," said Li Zongli, one of the recalcitrant residents. "I've had a private toilet installed, and my living condition has already been substantially improved."
The problem: Major renovation requires consent of all residents.
Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, community workers negotiated with the residents by telephone, but many remained opposed to the plan, Meng said.
She then had other neighborhood committee staff, wearing masks and other protective gear, visit the residents one by one to discuss details of the renovation plan. Meetings between residents and designers to discuss the blueprint were also held.
All the residents finally agreed to the renovation in June and worked began.
Jin Lili, a resident on the fifth floor, said the rehabilitation will mean she no longer has to wash herself with basin in the bedroom. Her neighbor Li Zongfa, who has been living in the building for nearly three decades, said his mobility-impaired wife will be able to come and go easily when an elevator is installed in their building.