British 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.