Yes, China is doing something about its mess of new cities.
These guidelines were based on case studies of the Pearl District of Portland, Oregon and Hammarby Sjöstad in Stockholm, and were put together by a small team of urban designers — CC Huang, Chris Busch, Hal Harvey, Dongquan He, Edward Qu — along with input from over 100 experts in all aspects of urban development, including developers, government officials, and investors.
“We found that local governments and national governments have great intentions to build green and smart cities, but they don’t necessarily know how,” said CC Huang of Energy Innovation.
These guidelines intend to remedy this by creating standards like urban growth boundaries to curb sprawl, establishing transit-oriented development to improve navigability, making more public green space, building mix-use neighborhoods on street plans that have smaller blocks to enhance a feeling of community and increase economic vitality, implementing strategies for more efficient resources usage, imposing criteria for green buildings, coming up with ways that car use can be controlled and limited, as well as coordinating and monitoring it all with smart technologies.
“It is a mish-mash of many European reports and studies…and careers,” Austin Williams explained. “It has a little of the 1980s William H Whyte, as well as the 1990s and 2000s work of Jan Gehl, as well as the interminable work of the New Urbanists, but then it is also throwing in items from the China Star system and the BREEAM system from the UK.”
“Normally, I’m quite skeptical when it comes to new concepts on urban sustainability – simply because the past decade the term ‘green’ has been suffering from an immense inflation due to overuse,” said Daan Roggeveen, the founder of the Shanghai based MORE Architecture. “In this case, it seems to be different. The CDBC approach . . . focus[es] on simple, down to earth but essential concepts of sustainable and livable cities.”
“These twelve things all make good sense but they’re nothing new,” said Richard Brubaker, a professor of sustainability at China Europe International Business School in Shanghai, hitting on a simple fact that may make these guidelines more applicable in practice.
These guidelines are not impressive because they are anything ground-breaking or extremely innovative in and of themselves, but because they are realistic. Most of them have been done in China before, and that means they are not wholly outside of the conceptional framework of the people tasked with actually bringing them to life. What’s significant about these guidelines is that they take a set of design specifications that have been intermittently used before and assembles them together into a concise framework that can be followed, measured, and enforced at every stage of the process. They are something that China can actually use.
And use them, they are. CDBC, who is currently funding “new type” urbanization projects in 40 cities across China, has set aside US$15 billion for two pilot test cases which are utilizing these green and smart guidelines. One of which is a 20 square kilometer urban renewal project in Nanjing’s Yuhua District and the other is an 813 square kilometer new city project in Shijiazhuang, near Beijing, which will be integrated into the emerging Jing-Jin-Ji 150 million person mega-region. If these two pilots are successful then these guidelines may be applied to CDBC’s other projects and, potentially, be universally used for all urbanization initiatives across China.
“We have in our portfolio 40 cities so we want to promote this throughout China,” said CDBC’s Jingjing Xu, “and maybe after a few years many cities will want to adopt it and it will become a defacto new guidelines for eco-cities and smart-cities in China.”
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