Chinese eco-city lowers its sights

Jonathan Watts in Tianjin

June 6, 2009

CHINA and Singapore are pooling expertise and finance to build a green urban community in north-east China, with the capacity for 350,000 people, close to the western shore of the Bohai, one of the most polluted seas in the world.

Prototype eco-cities and villages are springing up in several areas in China, but finding the right balance between radical change and realism has proved elusive. The biggest disappointment has been the eco-city plan for Dongtan, which the engineering consultants Arup billed as a model for the world.

Under an ambitious scheme dreamed up by the British company, the silt flats north of Shanghai would have been home to a low-carbon, virtually car-free city the size of Manhattan. But just a year before the first phase was to have been completed, the site is moribund and prospects of the plan being realised look increasingly distant.

Goh Chye Boon, chief of the joint venture running the business park at the eco-city, said his project had learned from Dongtan that it was better not to reach immediately for the skies.

"Dongtan inspired me, but I think sometimes that when you reach too high, you may forget that the ultimate beneficiary must be the resident," he said.

But the new city being built in Tianjin is in danger of going too far the other way by not being ambitious enough. Although it will use wind and geothermal power, its target of 20 per cent of energy from renewable sources by 2020 is only a tiny improvement on the goal for the national average. The goal for carbon emissions is equally modest.

More impressively, every building is to be insulated, double-glazed and made entirely of materials that abide by the Government's green standards. More than 60 per cent of waste will be recycled. To cut car journeys by 90 per cent, a light railway will pass close to every home, and zoning will ensure all residents have shops, schools and clinics within walking distance.

It will be more verdant than almost any other city in China, with an average of 12 square metres of parks or lawns or wetlands for each person.

Guardian News & Media