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Green City China

dongtan.jpgBritish design consultancy Arup has announced that it has been tapped by the Chinese government to lead the construction of an "eco-city" expansion to Shanghai. Dongtan, the expanded development near Shanghai's airport, will eventually cover about 8,800 hectares -- roughly the size of Manhattan island. Shanghai claims that the Dongtan project will be "the world's first genuinely eco-friendly city," using recycled water, cogeneration and biomass for energy, and striving to be as carbon-neutral as possible.

The first phase, a 630 hectare development including a mix of transport facilities, schools, housing and high-tech industrial spaces, will begin construction late next year, and is expected to be completed by 2010.

So what does it mean to be a "genuinely eco-friendly city?" Arup gives this overview:

Priority projects include the process of capturing and purifying water in the landscape to support life in the city. Community waste management recycling will generate clean energy from organic waste, reducing landfills that damage the environment. Combined heat and power systems will provide the technology to source clean and reliable energy. Dongtan will be a model ecological city, and its buildings will help to reduce energy use, making efficient use of energy sources and generating energy from renewable sources.

The express goal for the Chinese government is to use the Dongtan development as a template for future urban design.

This isn't the only green city project in China. In July, we noted that William McDonough had drafted a master plan for building the city of Huangbaiyu as a "cradle-to-cradle" model city. Phase 1 construction, with forty new homes built using advanced construction materials, should be completed by October. As McDonough's plan is arguably at least as "eco-friendly" as the Dongtan project is supposed to be -- and is already well underway -- Shanghai's claim that Dongtan will be the first one is a bit dubious.

The projects aren't identical, however. Huangbaiyu differs from the Dongtan project in two important ways: the Huangbaiyu plan is expressly focused on building sustainable, livable communities, while Dongtan is looking at more of a business-use mix; and the Huangbaiyu project is being undertaken by a semi-private group, the China Housing Industry Association, while Dongtan is very much a government-organized endeavor.

On the surface, at least, this is very good news, as it means that the overall message -- that China needs to rethink its policies and behavior in light of the incipient environmental crisis -- is getting through to both government and commercial planners. It also suggests that we might see some measure of competition between the two sites for the "greenest city in China" crown, as well as for the role of "template" for future urban development.

Ultimately, though, the real test is whether these projects move beyond test phases, and whether they maintain their current goals of high-efficiency, small-footprint urban design. That there are these two projects going on simultaneously gives some degree of hope that at least one will follow through with its master plan. If we're lucky, however, by 2010 we'll have two very different -- and very compelling -- models for how to build sustainable cities world-wide.

(Via Inhabitat)


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Comments (13)

I love Hu Angang's distinction betwwen 'black gdp growth' and 'green gdp growth' in the Green China overview. If we can only get our own governments competing on these terms, we will be really winning.

Benjamin Farahmand:

This truely is a step in the right direction. However, why doesn't the U.S. government work on recreating our existing cities into green cities before U.S. population growth is out of control? For example, it would be a perfect scenario for New Orleans. Even though the steps that the Chinese government is taking will open new doors in the near future, I just hope it is not too late to change the direction of the existing world infrastructure.

Stefan Jones:

"What does it mean to be a genuinely eco-friendly city?"

On a national basis:

It means your government and your culture has the balls to admit there is such a thing as environmental problems, that they way you live contributes to them, that something can be done about them, and that it is worthwhile to do so.


Not realy. All it means is what it ment 2 generations agao when they made the perfect communities safe and wholesome and clean! Its to attract young and well off chinese to what likely is otherwise a realy stupid place to live for young go getters.

Every so often they trumpet that generations version of the perfect community. They do it for money they do it to attracvt young people and they do it because they always have done it. There will be a string of these and only some will actauly be truely what they say they are. Thats how it always is.

Philip M. Jonat:

wintermane, i always enjoy your hypercriticism, it keeps us treehuggers in line and on the ground. on this one, are you suggesting that it is useless to try to create a better place to live and work? though this has been done many times in the brief industrial history of the world, we are in the unique position to learn from those communities and incorporate new ideas, such as the bright green environmental movement. this is probably one of the steps in the right direction and certainly in my mind a worthwhile goal, even if never perfected. beauty is in the imperfections. - phil

I had an impression that 'all development, no conservation' was the prevalent attitude in China. Is it because worldchanging is particular good at picking positive stories, or is it a real change in China? Is it a case that once the basic need is filled, one would look at next level of need. In this case a solution to the imminent environmental problems the society is facing?

There is every reason to be skeptical on the outcome of these development plan. But it is even more frustrating to see the U.S. administration actively undermining any effort for sustainability.


Oh no its very valuable work but im saying its not abnormal and that just like in the past you have to be careful when jumping into such a project that most of them failed.

We need to know exactly why each participant in this project is doing it and if they realy plan the kind of effort and funding needed to realy make it happen or if its just windowdressing to attract certain people and moola.

One of my old friends bought into such a perfect community pitch and lost his shirt because after much was built and the money spent the backers pulled out with thier profits and never fixed any of the problems that cropped up. He wound up selling the home for far less then he paid for it and also wound up working many extra years to rebuild his retirement fund.

I lost track of the poor guy years ago and I dont think he ever managed to retire before he likely died.

Benjamin Farahmand:

I am a bit unfamiliar with what goes into building these green cities and the policies that go along with them. So I was just wondering; Mr. Tung, could you explain how the U.S. administration is undermining any effort for the sustainability of a project such as this.

Wintermane, you bring up an interesting point. However, isn't that just another way to describe capatalism. I agree with you in one sense. From the way I see it, there are "three billion new capatilists," if I may use Prestowitz' title for just a moment, and I just hope that you're wrong in your foresight of the production of these green cities. If they don't work and the creators of these cities are looking for a way to make a quick buck, that would have great repercussions on people and not just the environment. Basically, mistakes cannot be made. As someone famous probably said many times before, "failure is not an option." However, all this blabber might just come from my naivete, young age, and that glimmer of hope I still see in mankind.


"Mr. Tung, could you explain how the U.S. administration is undermining any effort for the sustainability of a project such as this."

His statement was more a general observation than anything else. US politicians are unfortunately subject to many intense external pressures, the strongest of which come from big business. The fossil fuel lobby is among the strongest of these and is the reason you will see many prominent US politicians (including the President) say that the jury is still out on global warming while other nations (mostly European I'll admit) are already passing legislation to reduce emissions and create incentives for green technology.

So, the US government drags its feet because it is beholden to certain business interests. This means that the world's largest economy is not being given many government incentives to invest in sustainability. You could say that this impacts sustainability worldwide, as a large amount of resources that could be invested are not.

Luckily, economic momentum is moving toward more and more green technology and US businesses are beginning to follow the trend. This in turn will drag the government along--eventually. So, the US govt is a drag on sustainability right now... but I believe this state of affairs will be forced to change in the near future.


Its not just capitalism its how all big projects work. Someone nearly always skims and schemes.

We just have to hope enough of em make it soon enough that any failures dont bring the process to a hault.

As for big oil and current policy its simple realy. Legalties require that to keep options open the us and any other country that likely may need to depend on coal will need to keep some deniablity.

As such until we find a FULL and 100% garanteed TOTAL replacement for coal and oil they cant afford to confirm anything. Now in other countries they dont need to care because if the people dont like it they can be shot and so can the lawyers;/

It still amazes me that people dont realize without bushes help the kyoto treaty nefer would have been ratified. Just because one has to keep all options open doesnt mean one cant do the right thing... sneakily.

Fossilized Flower:

"It still amazes me that people dont realize without bushes help the kyoto treaty nefer would have been ratified".



Simple bush can do green things as long as he can avoid looking like hes done so. In this case the kyoto treaty was going nowhere until america backed out. Then because no one expected russia to jump in a ton of politicians saw good old public relations exposure without any bad side effects and so signed on.

Then when all the suckers had done so russia signed on and sealed the deal.

A classic rope a dope. They were all bussy looking at bush and bush was bussy keeping them looking at him they never once wondred why the heck russia had refused to sign on.

Now here is the kicker. After the tech is created and the money spent it will be proposed that it all be given freely to the world to help fight global warming... so of course we get the tech for free so does china and so does india...

And we are all out nothing.

>>Mr. Tung, could you explain how the U.S. administration is undermining any effort for the sustainability of a project such as this.

Not to this project. But a perception of the adminstration's direction. Denying the threat of global warming, rejecting Kyoto accord, resistence to improve vehicle fuel economy, promotion of coal power, etc, etc. I'm hoping to think of some positive effort but nothing comes out of my head.


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