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Beijing's uncontrolled urbanization
Beijing's uncontrolled urbanization
Xie Liangbing

BEIJING"Better city, better life ..." This was the theme of the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, a nod to the ancient Greek scholar Aristotle who understood what people expect from urban life: to make their living a better living.

But what is the reality in people's lives right now? During China's golden week — in which people celebrate China's National Day — Typhoon Fitow made landfall on the southeast coast and Shanghai was instantly turned into a lake. Buses became submarines. The nearby city of Yuyao in Zhejiang province was almost completely underwater. And even the north wasn't spared, as a haze lingered for days, causing serious air pollution in numerous cities including Beijing.

Cities that are supposed to bring convenience and comfort seem to offer just the opposite — overcrowding, stifling air, unbearable traffic jams, increasingly scarce water, madly rising house prices, frequent land subsidence, threats and frequent casual attacks by unstable people on the margins of society ... The list goes on, as life in Chinese cities gets worse instead of better.

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Beijing — Photo: Snow Kisses Sky

The worst of all is that when we inspect carefully all the "component parts" of our cities we discover that they function like a sieve: full of cracks and loopholes that leave the structure incredibly vulnerable.

Even a tiny weather-related event is enough to paralyze a city. In Beijing, a mild snow shower can bring the whole town’s traffic to a halt. A typhoon that was blowing towards Fujian flooded Yuyao, a city that is miles away to the north.

In fact, this growing vulnerability is becoming the common characteristic of cities globally. A recent report, published by the Swiss Reinsurance Company, about the world’s most vulnerable cities and urban areas shows that Tokyo-Yokohama tops the list, while the Pearl River Delta and Shanghai came in as the 3rd and the 8th riskiest places in the event of natural disasters.

Deep systems, not pretty facades

So why are cities full of people rushing about becoming so fragile? One can’t stop acts of God, but are human factors also contributing to rising risks?

Following Yuyao’s flooding, there was no running water, no electricity, no food for days. The shortage of relief supplies even led to brawls between the victims of the disaster and the volunteer workers — and to the public looting of the relief materials. When questioned about its risk management ability, the Yuyao Municipal Party Committee Secretary said that this typhoon was particularly strong and is a "once in a century" kind of event.

"Once in a century" has become the magic phrase for every Chinese official in front of any disaster, whether it's in the northeast, Shanghai or Zhejiang. Chinese city managers have always attributed a city's vulnerability to force majeure or acts of the public. For instance, one Beijing official blamed "drivers micro-blogging or sending text messages" as the cause of the city's traffic jams, or "cooking with coal” as one of the factors of the capital's smog.

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Photo: Craig Kirkwood

Instead, we discover that urban leaders attach greater importance to short-term construction projects than to deep thinking and strategic planning about a city’s future. Short-sighted behavior has become commonplace, with officials "paying attention to what’s above ground while ignoring what’s underground” and "worrying about construction while neglecting maintenance.”

Urbanization is expanding in every corner of the world, though the pace varies. According to a United Nations study, by 2050 urban inhabitants will reach 6.3 billion, totaling 68% of the world’s population.

Meanwhile in China, cities are springing up in an uncontrolled way. The official urbanization rate has exceeded 50% — which means that most Chinese people will live in cities in the future. Urbanization makes us accustomed to the convenience of various transportation services, the ease of use of electricity and tap water, the practice of shopping at a nearby convenience store. Where can we go if they suddenly disappear because things keep breaking in our cities?

A city should be a place where we live with dignity, security, wellness and hope. This requires our government leaders to think about building strong urban systems rather than just glamorous construction projects that are merely a weak facade that can't even withstand a bit of weather.

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Geopolitics

New Probe Finds Pro-Bolsonaro Fake News Dominated Social Media Through Campaign

Ahead of Brazil's national elections Sunday, the most interacted-with posts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Telegram and WhatsApp contradict trustworthy information about the public’s voting intentions.

Jair Bolsonaro bogus claims perform well online

Cris Faga/ZUMA
Laura Scofield and Matheus Santino

SÂO PAULO — If you only got your news from social media, you might be mistaken for thinking that Jair Bolsonaro is leading the polls for Brazil’s upcoming presidential elections, which will take place this Sunday. Such a view flies in the face of what most of the polling institutes registered with the Superior Electoral Court indicate.

An exclusive investigation by the Brazilian investigative journalism agency Agência Pública has revealed how the most interacted-with and shared posts in Brazil on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Telegram and WhatsApp share data and polls that suggest victory is certain for the incumbent Bolsonaro, as well as propagating conspiracy theories based on false allegations that research institutes carrying out polling have been bribed by Bolsonaro’s main rival, former president Luís Inácio Lula da Silva, or by his party, the Workers’ Party.

Agência Pública’s reporters analyzed the most-shared posts containing the phrase “pesquisa eleitoral” [electoral polls] in the period between the official start of the campaigning period, on August 16, to September 6. The analysis revealed that the most interacted-with and shared posts on social media spread false information or predicted victory for Jair Bolsonaro.

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