10 January 2015
“Political leaders who supported the project were ousted due to corruption scandal. Former Shanghai Communist Party Chief Chen Liangyu was sentenced in 2008 to 18 years in prison for bribery and abuse of power, process stalled after transition of shanghai mayors.”
“Though publicized internationally, most locals knew little about it.”
“Environmentalists and academics have spoken out against the project, citing its location as the last extant wetlands outside shanghai and a home to rare migratory birds.”
“Foreign forms plunge into the projects with little understanding of Chinese politics, culture, economics, or needs of local residents.”
“According to Paul French, one problem was a feud over who would fund the project (Arup- or Shanghai Industrial Investment Corporation- the Chinese government arm that owns the land). Arup assumed they would design a project then sell it to the Chinese, but the Chinese thought Arup would build the project themselves.”
“On the whole, within China, there has lately been more enthusiasm for expanding green building codes than building new cities from scratch.”
“Austin Williams, director of the Future Cities Project, writes “Dongtan, the city that was intended to be the ‘model for how to build sustainable cities worldwide’ should still provide a lesson for us all. Blindly praising its environmental credentials without recognising its squat, low-rise, parochial, carbon-fetishising, architecturally unappealing, unworkable urban eco-clichés, is a recipe for future disasters.””
“Peter Head, project leader from Arup told Fred Pierce in his article for the Guardian “China does everything by the rules handed down from the top. There is a rule for everything. The width of roads, everything. That is how they have developed so fast, by being totally prescriptive. We wanted to change the rules in Dongtan, to do everything different. But when it comes to it, China cannot deliver that.””
“Most developed sustainable urban community may be sino-singapore Tianjin EcoCity- it has commitments from companies and investment groups that have provided a high level of support beyond that of its major stakeholders.”
“Buildings in Shanghai continue to spring up without loft insulation or double glazing. “Just fixing that would reduce electricity massively,” Paul French (Shanghai-based director of the market research company AccessAsia) said.”
“China’s Eco City projects face at least one of the following challenges:
Shifting Political Leadership
Dedicated upper-level political support can make a huge difference to project success. In most cases, Chinese local officials, especially those in the top ranks (i.e., Secretary-Generals of local party committees and/or local mayors) have service terms of five years, and can serve for a maximum of two terms. So if a local leader resigns or is transferred elsewhere, this could signal termination of the local Eco-City development plan that the leader originally supported.
This happened to the Dong Tan project when former Mayor and Party Secretary-General of Shanghai, Chen Liangyu, was removed from his position in 2006 due to corruption charges. Dong Tan has since had trouble bringing in additional investment to continue the project, and some previously committed investment was withdrawn because donors did not want to be connected with projects supported by a convicted leader.
Green design never comes free. Large-scale development projects like Eco-Cities require significant investment that generally exceeds the financial capacity of local governments. As a result, governments typically bid out the development rights to business groups, which are tasked with investing in and building out components of the project under the government’s macro-management. Out of self-interest, business developers tend to start with sub-projects that guarantee the quickest and highest return on investment, which in the current economic situation usually means residential housing units.
It’s no wonder, then, that most ongoing Eco-City initiatives are actually real estate projects. Some are indeed built in adherence with strict green codes, but others are purely commercial facilities with no specific environmental or ecological goals. For example, there were reports (see one of the report here [in Chinese]) that some of the projects under Wan Zhuang Eco-City’s development plan were actually for private golf clubs. Moreover, because many of the residential communities that have been built with concrete environmental standards are significantly more expensive than their non-green counterparts, China’s Eco-Cities might eventually become enclaves for high-income households only. This raises the question of whether this is in line with Eco-City principles, or, more profoundly, whether access to green goods or services creates an unjustified gap between urban dwellers.
A convenient truth
The fact that China’s existing Eco-City projects tend to focus largely on real estate development also raises a quality-control question at the conceptual level: does a green-designed residential community even count as an Eco-City? By definition, a city should be able to accommodate a full range of functions covering all the major aspects of its residents’ work and life. Under Paloheimo’s definition, an Eco-City is designed to be a closed system (on the resource and material level) and doesn’t address such qualification questions.
Maybe the Eco-City concept isn’t really relevant when applied to existing cities. But in China’s case, where a significant share of these projects is based on the development of previously non-existent city districts, the question becomes crucial. It’s hard to imagine an Eco-City where most of its population would have to travel in-and-out of city bounds frequently to earn a living (green or otherwise).
Reviewing all of the so-called “Eco-City” initiatives on China’s map (see right), we couldn’t help but notice that this moniker is being conveniently added to any urban development plan, as long as the planned municipality boasts some “low-carbon economic sectors” such as tourism, recreation, and information technology, and that it vows to depend to some degree on renewable energy and a closed-cycle material management system.
If this is accomplished and operates strictly as planned, then these newly built cities might generate minimum or even zero environmental impact. But it seems that none of these plans opted to internalize the wider costs associated with urban development, specifically the tremendous materials and energy needed to build up the infrastructure of these Eco-Cities. Certainly, tourism or recreation alone would generate far fewer carbon emissions. But if the environmental and energy costs of developing these low-carbon sectors were included, it is unlikely that any of these Eco-City projects (from a life-cycle perspective) could achieve carbon neutrality, much less their intended goals of reduced carbon emissions and energy use.
Bigger ecological concerns
Even if life-cycle analysis proved that China’s Eco-City projects themselves would result in near-zero environmental impacts, these efforts would likely present other ecological impacts that are not currently factored into the equation. Developing a new Eco-City could easily eat up hundreds of square kilometers of land that might be of indispensable ecological or other value to China or the world. One of the reasons that the Dong Tan project was put on hold is that the planned Eco-City would have been built on valuable farmland, which China is now viewing as a strategic asset in terms of food security.
In addition, Dong Tan is an important stopover for migratory birds, including 12 endangered species and dozens of other birds listed in the National Protected Animal Catalog. The potential impacts on migration patterns of the region’s Eco-City and other large-scale urban planning projects has yet to be assessed. In 1998, years before the inception of the Eco-City, more than 326 square kilometers of Dong Tan was established as a National Nature Reserve to protect area wetlands—a potential conflict that local government officials must have been aware of before they started conceiving the Eco-City idea.
In principle, cities can be ecologically or environmentally friendly, but a long-term green vision alone is not enough. Project implementers and local officials need to pay special attention to the steps that they are taking to achieve those goals. Most importantly, green concepts like Eco-Cities should not be used as an advertising tactic to attract outside investment for less environmentally friendly, more traditional development. In short, to build a sustainable future, the approaches and processes being utilized should be sustainable in practice as well.”
“Dongtan hit the headlines first when it began in 2005, then when it was put on hold a few years later. It is a Chinese-British new building project outside Shanghai on the island of Chongming, in the estuary of the Yangtze River. Here there are plans for an urban area with half a million inhabitants, able to produce both their own energy from renewable sources and some of their food through organic farming. Buildings are to be energy efficient, and transportation almost carbon-free by means of fuel-cell-driven public transport and a network of bicycle and pedestrian paths. But almost nothing has been built as of yet. The World Bank states that this has to do with many factors: problems of funding; changes in priorities with local government; and issues of environmental policy such as the great commuting distance to Shanghai and the choice of Dongtan’s location in globally vital wetlands.”
Research on Eco-City viability relevant for Chongming Island:
One planner of Chongming eco-island described the decision to adopt Arup’s Dongtan eco-city approach as more historical accident than intentional action:
“The Shanghai Government opened the competition for Dongtan’s master plan withonly one criterion in mind: Shanghai wanted to use the large undivided parcels of undeveloped land on Chongming Island to build something that either had not been seen in other cities or would be the biggest among whatever other cities have… Several international architectural companies submitted their designs for competition, with wide coverage of themes like convention centers, hotels, theme parks… After Arup first presented their idea of building an eco-city, the [Communist] Party secretary of Shanghai was convinced that an eco-city would be a good idea as it goes well with the General Secretary of the Party’s political guidelines for creating a harmonious society and sustaining agricultural development.