Shanghai World Expo 2010>My View
UPDATED: April 28, 2010 Web Exclusive
'A Better City Should Be Full of Humanitarian Consideration'

Interviewee: Ren Lin, female, 25, a master's degree candidate in France

Place of birth: Beijing, China

Current residence: Paris, France

Cities visited: Paris, London, Vienna, Prague, Amsterdam, Milan, Rome, Venice, Oxford and Cambridge

Understanding of "Better City, Better Life": A city should be environmentally friendly, and have profound culture and civilized citizens. It should be a place full of humanitarian consideration.

Oral history:

After finishing my bachelor's degree in 2007, I enrolled in the Graduate School of Sorbonne University in Paris. I've been there for three years now, and I have traveled to almost every European country.

The travel-study experience has broadened my horizons and changed my understanding of a city. I realized that the square structure in Beijing and the skyscrapers in Shanghai are not necessarily the shared symbols of all cities around the world. The contours of my ideal city became apparent particularly after my trips to the water city of Venice, the academic cities of Oxford and Cambridge, and the historic city of Prague.

I was greatly impressed by the landscaping in London when I went there in December 2009. I could see Hyde Park from the window of my hotel room. The grassland would soothe you even in bad weather.

In most European cities, there is a park every couple of miles. Unlike the square grassland alongside avenues in Beijing, which is closed to the public, parks in European cities are open to anyone—you can either take a walk or enjoy the sunshine. These parks provide people with a place to spend their leisure time; they also improve the quality of the air. In Paris, for example, you can smell the fragrance of soil after it rains, a privilege only in cities with plenty of green space.

European people have nurtured a consciousness of environmental protection. Aside from proper landscaping, new building ideas have been introduced in some countries, such as growing plants on the roof. This design is used for houses as well as residential complexes and even public places such as airports.

I was lucky to see this unconventional yet practical design at the Amsterdam airport. The shade from plants helps reduce the energy consumed by air conditioners. Plants on the roof can store water and absorb carbon dioxide.

In recent years, Beijing has gradually realized the importance of environmental protection, moving heavily polluted factories outside of the city and looking for a safer and more proper way to dispose of trash. But Beijing still has a long way to go to become an environmentally friendly city.

Rich cultural connotations and civilized citizens are also important for a better city. Both Paris and Beijing have a long history and rich cultural connotations. Paris does well in terms of promoting its culture and has a unique way of attracting people. For example, when people in Beijing want to learn about something, they prefer to use the Internet, whereas Parisians resort to libraries. Unlike in Beijing, there are public libraries on every block in Paris. Public libraries in Paris are often full of people except on holidays, even though we are now in the era of the Internet.

Every week, radio stations in France broadcast lectures presented by historians and literary figures. The topics are sometimes very interesting. For example, there was a lecture on how French people dressed during World War II. Programs like this are so popular in France that young people tune in through their iPods.

The Institute of France gives open lectures on culture and history every week, and the lectures are available to download from the Internet. Compared with Paris, cultural activities that can attract wide attention in Beijing are lacking.

In addition, humanitarian considerations influence people's sense of happiness. In France, buses have places reserved for babies, and there is more space rather than seats for pregnant commuters. You can easily find plastic bags in parks or on the street to clean up after your pet dog. Details like these exactly reflect the maturity of a city.

China has started paying attention to humanitarian considerations in recent years. During my short stay back home last spring, I noticed that every subway station in Beijing had been equipped with wheelchair lifting platforms. You can find wheelchair-accessible passages in hospitals, cinemas and sightseeing spots. These details reflect the city's improving humanitarian consideration and witness the progress of society. More efforts need to be made to make Beijing a "world-class city," as the Municipal Government proclaimed in a slogan earlier this year.

I will finish my studies and go back to China this summer. Paris, in my eyes, is passionate, open and romantic. As an overseas Chinese student, I have gotten used to the local lifestyle but have no feelings of home in Paris. Though Beijing faces many problems during the process of construction and development, it was and always will be my home.

Maybe the best city would be one that combines the essence of Beijing and Paris.

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