Thousands of apartment buildings in Shenzhen built before 1997 are without elevators. This is increasingly becoming a thorny problem with the rapidly rising number of elderly citizens. Most of the buildings were built as governmental housing or affordable housing for early settlers in the 1980s and 1990s.
With the occupants of these buildings turning from youth and middle-aged to aged, the one-time comfort zone is becoming a chilling place, for getting up and down the stairs is getting harder day by day. An aged man living on the eighth floor of an apartment had not been out of his home for three years before his death.
Aware of the problem, at the end of 2013, the city government released a circular to encourage the construction of elevators in the old housing buildings. However, little progress has been made ever since. Only a few elevators have been erected. In Shekou where I live, only one has been put up in one building in the housing estate of Cuizhuyuan, making it Shenzhen’s first successful case of adding a lift to the old housing buildings. So far, this has also been the only success in Shekou.
But that is a drop in the ocean in terms of the demand. At Cuizhuyuan alone, there are 11 buildings of seven stories waiting for the addition of elevators. In Shekou, hundreds — and in Shenzhen, tens of thousands — of old buildings are crying for elevators.
What, then, is the obstacle to getting elevators constructed? An examination of the case of Cuizhuyuan will offer an answer.
Cuizhuyuan, built in 1993, is home to hundreds of residents who came to Shekou in the 1980s and 1990s. Like in other old housing estates, the senior inhabitants there find it increasingly urgent to build elevators to facilitate their movement. In 2012, a 60-year-old woman surnamed Ma took the initiative to begin with the process of applying for the approval of building a lift in the building in which she lived.
The mission was not accomplished until April 2016, when the new lift began operation. A lengthy book can be written about the untold experiences she went through during the process. First, she had to persuade every household in her building to agree to the project, which is impossible in most situations. It was the government’s requirement then to have a 100-percent consensus on the plan, meaning a single household’s opposition would ground it. The policy virtually made the massive construction of elevators impossible. The policy is said to have been modified as a two-thirds agreement. But this is yet to be made public.
The application procedure was a marathon and a test of will and patience, as Mrs. Ma and her helpers spent nearly four years making dozens of trips to various departments for approval of an assortment of applications. Despite Ma’s final success, her daunting experiences are actually discouraging rather than encouraging more followers.
A comparison with encouraging progress in other cities such as Shanghai, Hangzhou and Beijing can show the importance of governmental support and practical measures in promotion of the practice. In these cities, governments at different levels have been deeply involved in the task: grass-roots officials set up special teams to work out general plans and help implement concrete measures. For example, persuading inhabitants on lower floors is extremely difficult, for it is time-consuming and often met with resistance. Without official involvement, residents’ own efforts will be too limited to effectively accomplish anything.
District governments in Shenzhen have been offering subsidies for the replacement of old elevators with new ones. Unfortunately, at the moment, hardly any concrete official support is available for residents of old buildings who want to build elevators. At the housing estate where I live, the residents were enthusiastic and highly hopeful about the prospect of adding elevators to their old buildings a few years ago. However, everyone is silent now, as they have realized that without powerful and practical governmental support, this is a mission impossible.
After all, the tremendous amount of work related to the whole process is beyond any individual’s ability, particularly when most people concerned are elderly. It’s unimaginable that some senior residents have to take great pains to negotiate with those adamant opponents, prepare and deliver numerous application forms to various agents for approval, and negotiate with contractors.
Therefore, it is necessary and urgent for Shenzhen government to do more to promote this citizen-benefiting cause.
(The author is an English tutor and freelance writer.)