HOUSE WARMING: Workers in Changchun, Jilin Province, coat a residential building with insulation layers on July 11 (ZHANG NAN)
For decades Chinese cities have vied with each other to top national and international development rankings. However, the triennial national list of cities with an advanced living environment judges candidates according to less conventional criteria. Cities across the country are evaluated not for their GDP, skylines or historical attractions, but for their cleanliness, government efficiency, public order and the courtesy of their citizens.
The first version of the list, which included nine cities and three districts, was published in October 2005 by the Publicity Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in order to uplift urban environments across China. The second batch of 11 cities and three districts was certified in January 2009.
The third version of the list is due later this year.
Previously, an eligible city was required to have a per-capita GDP higher than the national average for two consecutive years before the application date. In 2011, this requirement was waived as a result of the government's determination to downplay the importance of GDP in the evaluation of local governments' performance.
In addition to application materials sent in by city authorities, a city's performance is evaluated by the use of official statistics, questionnaires and site visits. During site visits, evaluators may dial the city's service hotlines to see whether they work, review work logs and observe the work of city authorities.
"Our purpose is not only to make the list. More importantly, in the process, we are aiming to improve people's lives and boost the city's image," said Gao Guangbin, Secretary of the Committee of the Communist Party of China of Changchun, capital of northeastern Jilin Province.
The local government in Changchun has been renovating the city's buildings to make winter more comfortable for its residents.
With an average temperature of minus 11 degrees centigrade, winter in Changchun is harsh and heating is indispensable.
Although the city does provide central heating, many buildings are not energy efficient so a lot of heat is lost. In past years, indoor-temperatures in many residents' homes did not reach an adequate level.
"Buildings constructed before 2005 that do not meet the current winter heating standard account for about half of Changchun's total residential area," said Xie Zhimin, a municipal government official.
In 2010, the city started the Warm House Project as part of its efforts to improve people's livelihood.
"In 2010, the city already put a coat of insulating benzene plates onto 1,000 buildings and installed heat meters in them," said Xie.
As a result of this renovation many residents felt more comfortable during last year's cold winter.
Zhang Pingbin, a resident in Nanguan District, lives in a house facing north, which does not have sunshine all year round. "The Warm House Project has changed my life. My house is not only energy efficient but also more sound proof," Zhang said.
The Warm House Project not only makes winter more comfortable for residents, it also saves energy and reduces carbon dioxide emissions. Xie said on average, it takes 39 kg of coal to heat one square meter in north China, and the renovation will save at least 12 kg of coal per square meter of housing.
"That is to say, at least 80,000 tons of coal was saved in Changchun in 2010, which is equivalent to reducing 210,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions and 1,800 tons of sulfur dioxide emissions," Xie said.
This year, the city plans to renovate 2,100 buildings and a citizen inspector has been assigned to each building under renovation to ensure project quality.
A "city management reform" is sweeping Wuhan in central Hubei Province. The reform is intended to make people's lives better and the city more attractive.
"Wuhan's environment will change considerably in three months, radically in one year, and in three years, it will be the best in the province and first-rate in the country," said Wuhan Mayor Tang Liangzhi on July 11.
As part of the campaign, 150,000 volunteers have been deployed across the city. Wearing red caps and sometimes holding small red flags, these volunteers patrol streets and alleys, preventing people from spitting on streets, jumping lines or littering.
The effects of the efforts are already evident in the Fazhan Neighborhood.
The old neighborhood with more than 2,000 households was notorious for being dirty and chaotic. Many senior residents in the area, too frugal to trash outdated furniture and even empty plastic bottles, piled them up along the stairways and on streets. Some residents even threw their waste out of the window. As a result, cigarette butts, plastic bags and egg shells littered the streets.