Changsha Special

Changsha looks to new chapter in quality of life

By Feng Zhiwei (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-12-03 07:59

 Changsha looks to new chapter in quality of life

The historic city of Changsha has developed into a modern city with international vision and improved living and business environment. Zhao Yong

The historic city of Changsha, capital of central China's Hunan province, can be traced back 3,000 years. It is home to the Yuelu Academy - one of the most renowned of the nation's ancient schools, dating from the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and still offering educational programs today - as well as a tomb from the Mawangdui Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), a key archaeological discovery of the last century, and many other historical relics.

The local government of Changsha has now laid plans to create new renown and make the city into a better place for both living and business, said Mayor Zhang Jianfei.

With 13.5 percent average annual growth in gross domestic product, Changsha has been on track to becoming a dynamic modern city over the past three decades of reform and opening up.

In 2008, the city's comprehensive economic strength ranked ninth among all the provincial capitals in China.

Changsha looks to new chapter in quality of life

Since Zhang assumed the position of mayor two years ago, the city government has developed a blueprint to build Changsha into metropolis with international vision, and excellent living and business environment.

"We implemented a range of new measures beginning last year, including renewing urban planning, supporting the startup and development of small and medium-sized enterprises, guiding and encouraging the development of the private economy and offering new policies to stimulate employment," he said.

He said expanding Changsha's road capacity to alleviate traffic congestion and improving the environment are the highlights of the new urban development plan. With completion of a number of key road construction projects such as Jinzhou Avenue, the city's traffic capacity increased by 20 percent last year.

"And this year road capacity will increase a further 15 percent," said the mayor.

To protect the environment, the city is now implementing a three-year action plan that will result in its sewage treatment rate surpassing 80 percent, Zhang said. Other measures will ensure excellent air quality 90 percent of the days each year, he said.

Another initiative to improve the living standard for Changsha's residents is the extension of the social security system to include free education, medical insurance, unemployment insurance and the provision of economically affordable housing.

Last year, spending on those measures accounted for 79 percent of the government's budget. As a result, registered urban unemployment rate was less than 4 percent and there were no additional zero-employment families. All students in the nine-year compulsory education period received free tuition.

New experiment

Zhang said in late 2007, Changsha, along with the neighboring cities of Zhuzhou and Xiangtan, was approved by the State as an experimental zone for building a resource-saving and environmentally friendly society.

"In the next few decades, environmental protection and saving resources will be the key words in Changsha's development," said the mayor.

The city will give development priority to hi-tech and modern service industries and decline highly polluting and high energy consuming projects, according to Zhang.

In addition to industrial development, resources saving and environmental factors will govern urban construction.

"We should minimize the use of land, control the costs and maximize the lifecycle of the urban construction projects," Zhang said.

The mayor said the local government will pay more attention to the durability of urban projects, explaining that "the longer lifecycle means the fewer resources consumption and the lower cost in the long run".

He added that Changsha's urban construction should not degrade the landscape, mountains, rivers, lakes, forests or grasslands.

Business environment

Zhang believed the strict environmental threshold will not scare investors away, but will instead make Changsha more attractive to businesses from both home and abroad.

Even amid the global economic downturn, Changsha's economy grew 14.5 percent in the first three quarters of this year compared to the same period of last year.

Keeping the economy stable and growing is another primary task for the Changsha government, which has assisted with various approaches to help enterprises solve funding problems, including establishing credit guarantee programs, facilitating the cooperation between banks and enterprises, and encouraging and supporting enterprises to go public and to raise funds in other ways.

It has also streamlined its own administrative procedures. Compared to 2007, the time a business startup spends on needed approvals and documents has been shortened by 60 percent.

In addition, the government has also eliminated 208 types of administrative charges, greatly reducing the costs of enterprises.

Meanwhile, the city has channeled huge investment in improving infrastructure projects, including the construction of its Metro Line 2 and a tunnel under the Xiangjiang River, as well as upgrading navigable reaches of the waterway.

A number of world-class businesses, including automakers of BYD and Guangqi-Fiat, recently launched operations in Changsha.

(China Daily 12/03/2009 page7)