August 15, 2008

Shanghai - a traveler’s experience - some insights (Part2)

I wondered what is that makes this city so vibrant. The population of the inner city is massive > 1 crore - yet there is some orderliness that is visible. The traffic density is high, lane cutting, honking, overtaking but still driving in lanes. The infrastructure is massive - these people have a vision. I think they are planning for the next 2 decades at least. They have set up a Magnetic Levitation (Maglev) train from the city to the airport that takes 7 minutes to cover 30 kms - reaching a peak speed of 431 kmph! And this is termed as a demo project. This is likely to be rolled out to other cities soon.

While Beijing is done with the Olympics 2008 preparations, Shanghai is busy with the Expo 2010 preparations - amazing! This place is a real example of what a good government can do. In Beijing, to combat air pollution for the Olympics, the odd-even rule for traffic has been enforced - implying depending on your number plate, you can drive your car only on alternate days. This was experimented a few months back so that they know what it takes to implement it. The new airport terminal built there is bigger than any entire airport in Asia - even bigger the entire London Heathrow airport. The new terminal at Shanghai airport is also huge. That is the amazing part - to be able to visualize the next 2 decades, plan and execute to it. At the same time, they have also figured out aesthetic, yet cheaper, options for their infrastructure.

The trust in the system is high - it was evident when I witnessed one road accident at 7 am involving a taxi and bicycle. A small crowd gathered, but there was no shouting or fighting. The cyclist remained sitting on the road till the police and ambulance arrived. The taxi driver accompanied the cyclist to the hospital and came back after some time to pick up his taxi.

Such a system can also result in some interesting mandates - the government has mandated the stock market fund managers not to give any bearish outlook till Olympics are over, people have been asked to improve driving habits to create a good impression, citizens have been instructed not to ask foreign visitors about their age, wage and sex life and religious/ political beliefs. There are posters/ signboards also put up with these instructions. Anyone present during the rehearsal of the Olympics opening ceremony and found leaking out the secret on the details will be jailed for 7 years! Believe me; the authorities are capable of finding it out and implementing it.

Known for its communist policies and one-party rule, the system has produced quite some results. As an example, certain CPG industries that have high profit margins (like chips, soft drinks) need to have around 50% government holding. This would ensure that these profits go to the government and are more evenly distributed in terms of the infrastructure and other facilities. For this to work, however, you need good faith in the system and its delivery capabilities.

Not to say that there are no problems beneath this good looking layer, but the way things work - is something worth a look. Other economies also work in their own way - we can surely borrow some good learning from each other... Hopefully, we (as individuals, society, and administration) can learn from other parts of the world and also share some of our learning with others!
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