Shanghai passed a major milestone over the Lunar New Year holiday by becoming China’s quietest major city during the period, thanks to our new ban on all fireworks inside the Outer Ring Road. I’ll admit I was quite skeptical when the ban was initially announced, since it sounded nearly impossible to enforce in a city where thousands love to welcome the Spring Festival with the centuries-old tradition of setting off such noisy and heavily polluting fireworks.
But the city proved me wrong, by mobilizing a massive army of enforcers that included thousands of regular policemen and many times more volunteers tasked with stopping any merrymakers. As a result, I didn’t hear a single firecracker explode near my home in Hongkou District on Lunar New Year’s Eve, nor on the fourth evening of the New Year when people traditionally welcome the god of wealth.
Of course there’s still the chance that some hard-cores will set off firecrackers on the upcoming Lantern Festival on February 22, which marks the official end of the two-week Spring Festival period. But I’m hopeful that the thousands of enforcers will return to the streets, and also that many former firecracker aficionados are also starting to discover that a holiday without the pastime is certainly cleaner, quieter and just as enjoyable.
More broadly speaking, this huge success shows just how effective our city can be when it makes up its mind to tackle an issue and provides necessary resources to enforce its decisions. The last time we saw such determination was during the H7N9 bird flu outbreak of 2013, when the city quickly closed all live bird markets and rolled out a strict and very effective screening system at hospitals to catch and isolate new cases to prevent an epidemic.
In light of the latest success, I’d like to suggest a few other areas where Shanghai could try to flex its enforcement muscle in the year ahead as part of its effort to make our city a cleaner, more comfortable place to live. But first let’s review the massive effort that went into the new fireworks ban, and the results that saw the volume of litter and air pollution both drop dramatically.
The centerpiece of the city’s enforcement effort was an army of 50,000 official police and volunteers, who were quite visible on the streets of my neighborhood and throughout the city on New Year’s Eve. Even the security guard in my building was wearing an orange volunteer’s vest that night, and informed me that most of the other security guards throughout the area had been drafted to help enforce the ban. News reports said it was the biggest single-day enforcement effort in the city’s history.
But the effort went far beyond simply putting more police and volunteers on the street. In addition, Shanghai worked closely with the city’s only authorized fireworks supplier, getting it to promise to sharply curtail the amount of fireworks it supplies. The city also drastically reduced the number of authorized sellers inside the Outer Ring Road to just 66, a fraction of the 697 from last year and 1,400 in 2014. Buyers also had to produce a valid ID before making any purchases.
The reports note that not a single fire caused by firecrackers was reported in the city between Lunar New Year’s eve and the sixth day of the New Year. Again, I have nothing but praise for the city’s effort, which really shows how effective our local government can be when it decides to do something. That said, I’d like to close with my thoughts for a few other areas where perhaps our local officials could show similar determination in the year ahead, as they work to make our city more livable.
Headed my wish list are enforcement crackdowns on people who illegally smoke in public buildings, and fare jumpers in our subway system. Another area for stepped-up enforcement could be line cutters, especially at public places like railway. There are already plenty of security guards in most of these places, and empowering them to take more decisive action to enforce existing bans shouldn’t be that difficult.
A key element to success in any such campaign is education, which was critical in the fireworks ban. Before New Year’s Eve, there were banners everywhere announcing the campaign and lots of news coverage via city-sponsored media briefings. People have much less excuse for breaking the rules and are more likely to comply when they’ve been thoroughly warned in advance about a new enforcement effort through such a wide-ranging campaign.
At the end of the day such clean-ups are really a matter of will-power by our city government. The firecracker case shows that Shanghai citizens are often happy to comply with such campaigns, since usually the end result is an improved living environment that benefits everyone.