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Dongtan : Shanghai's ecology experiment

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Take Dongtan, the eco-city planned for southern

China. Before a brick has been laid, Dongtan is being hailed as the most ambitious attempt yet at a "green city". The plan is for a car-free, zero-emission, recycling city of half a million people....


Deterring the car is also vital, says Don Shanfeng, the senior architect of the project. "Cars won't be banned, but driving will not be made easy." A single road will meander through the first phase of the cithy, with traffic lights that automatically switch to give priority to the planned hydrogen-fuelled buses...


Read the entire article here: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg19025561.600.html


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Dongtan: Eco-City


The greatest movement of people in world history is under way. Three hundred million Chinese peasants will move to cities in the next twenty years. That means massive expansion for existing urban areas and the building of three to four hundred brand new cities. Miriam O'Reilly has been to China to see what these new cities could look like.


The Chinese are well aware that cities have a massive impact on the environment so they've commissioned the British engineering company, Arup to create a model eco-city where half a million people will live and work without damaging the environment. Their electricity will come from wind and wave, their sewage will fertilise the surrounding farmland and their water will be harvested from the skies and recycled.


The building of Dongtan on an island close to Shanghai is a horrendously expensive project but the Chinese are convinced that their investment will pay off. The new technology and new modes of urban living pioneered at Dongtan will, they hope, be replicated throughout China and sold on to a world desperate for environmentalas solutions.


But can a city with heart and soul really be designed on a London drawing board? Can the good ideas of Dongtan be rolled out quickly enough to keep up with the break-neck pace of China 's urban development?


Hear Radio show: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/science/costin..._20060427.shtml



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China to pioneer ‘first sustainable city’


By Geoff Dyer in Chongming


Published: September 15 2006


Chongming, an island at the mouth of the Yangtze river , has felt the impact of environmental degradation more than many places, as its population has doubled in 50 years and deforestation has silted up the river.


Now Chongming is to become a model for environmental good practice. The Shanghai government has just begun construction of an “eco-city” at a place called Dongtan, which is to be a showcase for sustainable urban life in a country where 20m people are moving to cities every year.


Arup, the engineering and design consultancy behind the masterplan, describes Dongtan as the “world’s first sustainable city”. “By integrating all these different technologies, we can create a new type of city living,” says Dong Shanfeng, who runs the project at Arup.


There is not much to see yet, but by the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai the developers hope 25,000 people will be living there, rising to 80,000 by 2020. Eventually the eco-city could have a population of 500,000.


Such bold initiatives are particularly important in China , which has 16 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world and is increasingly an exporter of environmental problems. This summer for instance, the government admitted that emissions of sulphur dioxide, which cause acid rain, had risen sharply over the last five years and that China was now the biggest source of such pollution.


Mr Dong says the Dongtan buildings will use one-third of the energy consumed by typical houses and energy will be renewable – one of the mock-up drawings shows large windmills in the distance.


Minimising the new city ’s environmental impact is vital, he says, not least because it is next door to a reserve for migrating birds.


Kang Hongli of Shanghai Green Oasis, a non-governmental organisation that monitors the island’s bird population, says: “The precise impact is not clear, but such expansion is bound to put huge pressure on the environment.” While there is a plan to protect the wetlands near Dongtan, she says, wetlands on the north coast of the island are already suffering.


The developers plan to generate 50,000 jobs around Dongtan in tourism and research – they are looking at a number of “innovation-oriented industries”, says Mr Dong. Yet if there are not enough jobs for residents, the eco-city could generate long car commutes to other parts of the Shanghai region.


That would make it part of a bigger problem. Although Shanghai is building new underground lines, critics say the city has created too many distant suburbs poorly served by public transport, one cause of the explosion in car ownership.


The paradox is that “if there is not an economic base and sufficient mass transit, Dongtan risks becoming a new-age Potemkin village”, says Christopher Choa, an architect at the Shanghai office of EDAW, an architecture and environmental consulting firm. “The real danger is that it becomes a whitewash for other activities that are not sustainable.”

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Visions of ecopolis


Sep 21st 2006 ... From The Economist print edition




Technology and the environment: China has ambitious plans to build a model “eco-city” near Shanghai .

How green will it be?



ON AN island at the mouth of China 's Yangzi River , plans are afoot to build the city of the future.

The first residents will move in within five years. The city will be self-sufficient in energy and water and will generate almost no carbon emissions. Petrol and diesel vehicles will be banned in favour of solar-powered boats and fuel-cell-driven buses. The developers of this “eco-city”, called Dongtan, hope that it will come to be seen as a model for the rest of the world: London 's mayor, for one, is already inspired by it. Will it work?


The island, Chongming, is a semi-rural county on the northern boundary of Shanghai , China 's most populous and crowded city, with a population of more than 9.3m in its main urban area. Shanghai 's rapid economic growth in recent years has made land in the city extremely expensive. Chongming, relatively poor and undeveloped compared with the neighbouring city, has long looked ripe for development into yet another expanse of factories and commuter towns. Instead, the city's planners—with strong backing from China 's political leadership—have decided to turn it into a model of what Shanghai is not. Chongming is to be an eco-friendly island. At its eastern end, on an expanse of reclaimed wetland that is today home to a scattering of farmers and fishermen, the eco-city of Dongtan will rise from the paddy fields, crab ponds and vegetable plots to become home to tens—eventually hundreds—of thousands of people.


Chongming likes to call itself China 's third-largest island, though many would no doubt object to that description in independent-minded Taiwan (supposedly the largest island, with the offshore province of Hainan as number two). It is a strip of alluvial silt about 80km (50 miles) long and 17km wide that is home to some 650,000 people. The plan is to turn some of this farmland into forest and to make all agriculture organic. Chongming also hopes to attract low-polluting, high-tech industries. But much of its economy will be generated by “green” tourism. Chongming's forests—all planted, because there is no natural woodland—will provide a holiday refuge for Shanghai 's residents, who have few parks or other open spaces to enjoy. There are also plans for a theme park.


Then there is the wetland. Chongming's fringe of tidal reed-covered mudflats—especially close to Dongtan—are a haven for birds, including the rare black-faced spoonbill, as they migrate between Australia and Siberia. Last year the central government put the wetland under state protection, although Yu Weidong, an ornithologist at Shanghai Normal University , dryly observes that it took two decades of lobbying to achieve this. Dongtan's planners say they will not only preserve the mudflats, but also create a wildlife park some 4km wide as a buffer along the edge of the wetland—“a placenta where life is to be gestated”, according to their brochure. Only one-fifth of Dongtan's 86km2 area is to be urbanised.


It sounds like just the kind of greenness so urgently needed in the rest of China . The country's cities are choked by the exhaust fumes from a burgeoning number of cars, shrouded with dust from countless building sites and soaked with rain turned acidic from coal burnt for power and heating. It is beguiling to imagine that Chongming might become a model for city planners elsewhere in China as they struggle with the fastest urban growth in the country's history. By some estimates, China 's urban areas, already home to around 560m people, may well have to accommodate another 300m people by 2020.


The central government, worried about the country's growing reliance on imported fuel and anxious to dispel its image as a super-polluter in the making, has begun to talk enthusiastically about the need for “green GDP” growth. There is hardly a local government that does not talk these days about plans for an eco-village, town or even city. But what they mean by this is vague. The central government fears that issuing clearer instructions could threaten growth and social stability. Officials bicker about how to quantify green GDP. Chongming, with little manufacturing industry that might resent the cost of going green, is seen as a low-risk place to experiment.


Ken Livingstone, London 's mayor, is one Chongming enthusiast. During a trip to Shanghai in April, he described the Dongtan project as “breathtaking in scale and ambition” and a potential “beacon to the world on how to achieve a low-carbon future”. Mr Livingstone has plans to build a zero-carbon suburb in London , in conjunction with Arup, a British engineering firm that is helping to design Dongtan. The project, in an old industrial area in east London , would be much smaller than Dongtan. But Mr Livingstone has said his plan would show that it is “affordable and achievable to make all major new developments low-carbon.”




Arup is excited, too. Rarely does the chance arise to design a city from scratch. The rapid growth of Chinese cities in recent years has been a bonanza for foreign architects and urban designers. Local governments have been lavishing huge sums of money on overseas expertise—much to the annoyance of home-grown designers—in the hope of making their cities look modern. Many of Beijing 's most prestigious new buildings are foreign creations. Shanghai's Pudong district, which until the early 1990s was mostly farmland and a few factories, now boasts a collection of skyscrapers designed by some of the world's most famous architects—not to mention the world's first commercially operating magnetic-levitation train, supplied by Germany.


Arup's contract, signed last August, is with Shanghai Industrial Investment Corporation (SIIC), a property company controlled by the Shanghai government and listed in Hong Kong that was given the newly reclaimed Dongtan site in 1998. The deal became a showpiece of environmental co-operation between Britain and China during a visit to London by Hu Jintao , China 's president, last November. In the presence of Mr Hu and Tony Blair, Britain 's prime minister, the two companies signed another deal pledging to co-operate on any similar future projects by SIIC. There is also talk of building further eco-cities after Dongtan.




Soul of a new metropolis


Arup's plan for Dongtan is for a city made up of three “villages”. The first phase, due to be completed by 2010, will accommodate some 25,000 people, the firm says, and the total population will increase to half a million by 2040. According to the company, the city will combine elements of traditional Chinese design with the latest green technologies. Its energy will come from renewable sources such as wind turbines and bio-fuels made from agricultural waste. Most of the city's rubbish will be recycled. There will be no landfill. Human sewage will be processed and used for irrigation. Food will be produced without using agricultural chemicals. And “green building” technologies will reduce the amount of energy needed to heat and cool buildings by 70%.


Unlike the newly developed areas around many of China 's fast-expanding cities, Dongtan will be compact, making it easy to cycle or walk around. Public transport, Arup says, will include solar-powered water taxis that will ply Dongtan's canals, and buses powered by hydrogen fuel cells, which combine hydrogen with oxygen to generate electricity and water, but no harmful emissions. The city government is expected to provide the buses as part of a scheme to have 1,000 fuel-cell vehicles in the city by 2010 and 10,000 by 2012. Visitors, says a news release, “will be encouraged to park their cars outside the city and use public transport” while in Dongtan. No petrol or diesel vehicles will be allowed in the city. And the hope is that there will be visitors aplenty. The eco-city is to be partly a tourist attraction.




Yet herein lies one potential flaw. Chongming is at present a couple of hours' journey from central Shanghai by taxi and ferry. This, and its lack of five-star amenities, acts today as a deterrent to the tourist hordes. But once a new expressway, a 9km tunnel and several bridges have been built to link downtown Shanghai with the province of Jiangsu to the north, Chongming will no longer be a remote backwater. The plan is to complete this new transport artery by 2010, when Shanghai will host the World Expo—an event regarded as the city's coming-out party—rather as the 2008 Olympic Games will be for Beijing . Hence the timing of Dongtan's first phase. SIIC wants to have something to show off when Shanghai is flooded with tourists, politicians and businesspeople. Visitors will be encouraged to use Dongtan's eco-friendly public transport. But their emissions in getting there, swollen by the growing numbers as travel gets easier and other planned attractions become available, could offset the city's eco-friendly features.


Then there is the risk that Dongtan will become little more than an expensive idyll where Shanghai 's wealthy can enjoy their weekends, or a dormitory town from which residents will commute to Shanghai 's city centre, polluting as they go. After all, cynics might say, SIIC is sitting on a potential goldmine that readily lends itself to just such a development. Since it acquired the land, there has been little that the company could do with it to turn a profit. In the absence of better transport links—it is 40 minutes by car to Dongtan after arriving on Chongming by boat—the land has been all but worthless. But with the infrastructure now being built this will dramatically change.


SIIC insists, however, that Dongtan will grow in accordance with the demands of its own local economy and will not be a getaway for Shanghai 's rich. Yet initially, at least, the city will depend on providing leisure activities for visitors from the mainland. In other words, it will be a theme-park economy—hardly one that could serve as model across China . Later, Dongtan hopes to attract research laboratories, technology companies and call-centres, and to develop commercial-exhibition services. But such activities are possible to a large extent because Dongtan is located on the doorstep of Shanghai , one of China 's wealthiest cities. So even if Dongtan becomes a showcase for technologies and urban design that help to protect the environment, it is not clear how affordable or relevant they would be elsewhere in China .




How green is my city?


Even Chongming's own government, notwithstanding its eco-pretensions, does not appear anxious to push the rest of the island to follow the Dongtan model. Hu Jun, a deputy county chief, says that one solar heating-panel costs the equivalent of a year's income for a peasant. The cost of electricity from wind turbines, he points out, is four times greater than it is from coal-fired plants. As a result, he says, the low income of Chongming's residents “can't support this kind of eco-technology”. Nonetheless, Chongming's plans are ambitious by China 's standards. By 2020, it plans to source 30% of its energy from renewables, up from less than 1% at present (solar-powered street lighting is ostentatiously installed near the ferry terminals). The country as a whole is aiming for 15% renewable energy by then, up from 7% now, most of it hydropower.




Chongming officials readily proclaim that environmentally friendly development requires a population that sees the benefits and understands what is required. But one of the main ways to foster such an awareness in Western societies, a vigorous civil society, is lacking in China . The country is only barely tolerant of non-governmental organisations, and fears that environmental pressure groups could provide cover for political activism against the Communist Party itself. A wetland expert in Shanghai asks that critical remarks about Chongming's plans not be attributed to him (he frets that a profusion of wind turbines, and an increase in the island's population, could threaten Chongming's birds). Even the Beijing office of WWF, an international environmental group, declined to discuss Dongtan. The local media say nothing that might embarrass the city authorities.


A big part of the environmental problem arising from China 's urban growth is that local governments and companies they associate with have little to restrain them as they rush to make money. This has encouraged the rapid outward expansion of cities, rather than the more efficient use of existing space. In name at least, rural land is collectively owned by village residents. But since unelected party officials still control most villages, it is easy for local governments to seize land and sell it to developers while giving peasants little compensation.


Dongtan, as reclaimed land with no permanent population before SIIC took it over, is not tainted with such a history. And most Chongming islanders, long isolated from Shanghai 's boom, doubtless welcome the government's decision to make the island's development a priority. But Shanghai 's growth, and that of many other Chinese cities, has happened with little reference to public sentiment. Even as Shanghai 's government plans a green haven on Chongming, it has been relocating tens of thousands of people from the city centre to make way for World Expo projects. The demand for cars is soaring as growing numbers are pushed into distant suburbs—a widespread phenomenon across China with cities rushing to build modern-looking business districts and erase Maoist-era housing. So, too, is the demand for better roads, resulting in a frenzy of construction across the country.




According to Peter Head of Arup, the aim at Dongtan is to achieve an “ecological footprint” of two or less, meaning that two hectares of land would on average accommodate the consumption and waste of each person. Measuring ecological footprints is an imprecise and controversial science, but Mr Head says his target would bring Dongtan to roughly the level that would be required globally for mankind to sustain itself indefinitely. By comparison, he says, London has a footprint of 5.8. By Mr Head's current measurements, Dongtan would come out at 2.5 and he admits that lowering this to two will be hard. The obstacles include the effects of construction, as well as residents' expected consumption of meat (which raises the footprint because animals need grain). “There is no way you can expect Dongtan people not to eat meat,” he says.



Follow the footprints


A pioneer of the ecological footprint, William Rees of the University of British Columbia in Canada , has mixed views of Dongtan. It is, he says, “hardly a truly sustainable option” given that it is a new city occupying what is mostly agricultural land near a large ecologically significant wetland. He says that it is being designed to attract wealthy buyers whose way of life will be characterised by “high levels of personal consumption and large per-capita eco-footprints”. But it could be worse. It is at least less bad, he concedes, than greenfield cities for the rich based on standard urban designs and architecture.


China's rapid development means it is most in need of a new approach to eco-friendly urban design, yet least able to embrace it. Despite the noble aims of its planners, Dongtan seems more likely to promote the development of other eco-cities outside China than within it. But as mankind becomes an urban species—around half of the world's population is now city-dwellers—the search for ways to reduce the environmental impact of cities has to start somewhere. Dongtan is as good a place as any.

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"Visions of Ecopolis" - page 20, The Economist, Sept.23-29th, 2006


China has ambitious plans to build a model "eco-city" near Shanghai. How green will it be?


Near the end of the article, the article says:


"A pioneer of the ecological footprint, William Rees of the University of British Columbia in Canada has mixed views of Dongtan. It is, he says, 'hardly a sustainable option' given that the new city is occupying mostly agricultural land near an ecological significant wetland. He says it is being designed to attract wealthy buyers whose ways of ife will be characterised by 'high levels of personal consumption and large per capita eco-footprints." But it could be worse. It is at least less bad, he concedes, than greenfield cities for the rich based on standard urban designs and architecture.l

Newe articles:


1: http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/103/open_22-head.html


Index award:

2: http://www.indexaward.dk/2007/default.asp?...amp;Folder=1980

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