City of the Future

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Qu Rengui offers Dalian the ultimate compliment: It feels like being abroad! In a country where breakneck development has generally meant polluted skies, congested streets and decaying infrastructure, this port city in China's northeast is doing something right--and becoming a model for China's 21st-century development. Gushes Qu, a visitor from Chongqing, the gray industrial metropolis on the Yangtze River: Dalian is so clean you need a shoe shine only once a month. If Dalian is an exemplar, it has a model leader: 50-year-old Bo Xilai, who became mayor of this city of 5.4 million in 1993. With solid political pedigree--he's the son of Long March veteran Bo Yibo--and oodles of charisma, Bo seems genuinely popular. Almost alone among big-city bosses, he has sought to reconcile rapid economic growth with environmental protection. From 1993 to 1997, the GDP of Dalian grew an average 15% a year. Yet the streets are tidy, and the air is clean. At the downtown Zhongshan Plaza, turn-of-the-century colonial-style buildings blend smoothly with new marble-and-glass skyscrapers. City streets are lined with ginkgo trees, and roadway intersections are adorned with flower beds and sculptures. China's environmental protection agency cites Dalian as one of China's cleanest cities; it's now exempt from annual nationwide pollution inspections. Bo's ideas derive in part from trips abroad. While in Japan he learned that elevating sidewalks can protect trees. In Europe he got the idea of putting non-polluting trams back in service. In the U.S. and Britain, he became inspired to tear down walls around state buildings to make room for parks and promenades. The idea is to design the city so that one steps into a garden as soon as one steps out of the house. Bo often intervenes when anyone violates environmental standards. I call up and demand action, even if I have to wake someone, says Bo. People carry out orders if they come from the mayor.