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The new environmental cities

Is it possible to get a big city environmentally friendly? Outside Shanghai, advanced efforts are being made to create a self-sufficient eco-city. By Ola Wong, Shanghai, China


In the year 2007, humanity is crossing a historical boundary. For the first time, half of the world's population will live in cities, according to the United Nations agency Habitat. Habitat warns that almost one in three city dwellers are living in slums.

While Europe, North America and Latin America had their largest urbanization

period in the mid-1900s, we now get the fastest growth from Asia and Africa. Africa has the fastest urbanization in sub-Saharan Africa, followed by Southeast Asia and East Asia. The proportion of Chinese living in cities has increased from 17 percent in 1978 to 42 percent in 2005.

Lead by example

- The Chinese are moving in a direction where they consume as much energy as we do in the West. Like us, they are rushing straight into a conflict over natural resources and climate disaster, says Dennis Pamlin, head of the environmental organization World Wildlife Funds (WWF)'s trade and investment work in Asia.

Pamlin believes the world has a wonderful opportunity to transform China's urbanization into a model for the rest of the world.

- If we let Chinese urbanization become an engine when it comes to the development of sustainable solutions, then it will be possible to handle the two billion more people who will come to cities by 2030. Economy and sustainability

Power must go hand in hand.

In 2003, two Chinese researchers wrote an article with the prophetically sounding title: "What the World Will Profit from China's Growth in the Next 20 Years." There, they describe how China's development is driven by three regions along the east coast: the Pearl River Delta in the south , Beijing-Tianjin-Bohai region in the north and Chang Delta in the middle.

"Over the next 20 years, we will see the emergence of three huge 'urban spheres', which account for five percent of China's land mass, and 20 percent of the country's population, but which produce 65-70 percent of the country's gross.

Domestic Product. Thanks to the traction of these huge urban power plants, central and western China will create their own urban belts, ”they wrote in the China Business Review.

At the same time, they pointed out that while half of the country's population is rising into these highs

developed urban environment, the depleted ecology is allowed to rest and recover in many places in China's vast lands. The researchers thought the environmental debt that has built up over thousands of years can gradually begin to be repaid.

They have one point: Almost all studies show that it is easier to solve environmental problems when people live in cities.

The middle class a problem

But here is a meeen that is as far as a car queue in Beijing. The middle class in China's cities live in a Western-based consumer society. Their large apartments are heated, cooled and lit by polluting coal. China is likely to overtake Japan by next year and become the world's second largest car market.

By 2020, 300 million more Chinese will have moved into the cities, in addition to the 560 million already living there. China will then, according to its plans, be a xiaokang shehui, a middle-class society.

A normally environmentally conscious European does not have to sit for many hours and look at the smog in the mentioned car queue, before he begins to question the value of having installed energy-saving shower heads at home. And the hustle and bustle of an active civil society – environmental organizations, zealots and tree-huggers – required to cultivate environmental awareness in the West is hardly tolerated in China. Excessively active press groups can quickly develop into a challenge for the ruling Communist Party.

Modern with environment

Sustainable development has become the latest political buzzword in Beijing. New cars must now meet energy efficiency requirements that are stricter than those in the United States. Central authorities have put their foot down to grant permission for large, area-demanding residential buildings and, for example, golf courses. The construction boom of large luxury apartments has been regulated. Almost every city in China has some sort of plan for building "eco-cities" – although these plans in

Many of the cases are considered empty talk.

- China is facing an important path choice. Should we choose the model of the West? Or should we choose a smarter approach and take control of developments? There is a will to change. But unfortunately it is not happening yet, says Zhao Min, director of the Department of Urban Planning at Tongji University.

In Shanghai, perhaps the most advanced eco-city experiment is underway. There, the construction of Dongtan on Chongming Island is planned at Changelva's outlet. The goal is a self-sufficient city with a more compact infrastructure and reduced waste production and energy consumption. At best, this results in a pollution-neutral urban environment that does not contribute to the greenhouse effect. Petrol- and diesel-powered vehicles will be banned. Instead, transport will take place on solar-powered boats and fuel-cell buses. The initiators hope that it can become a model for the rest of the world.

However, Zhao Min believes that Dongtan will damage sensitive wetlands in the area, areas that are home to rare fish and bird species.

- Environmental considerations are just a mask the property developers use to get political support. If you want to protect the ecology there, it is best not to build anything! he says.

He believes there are enough areas around Shanghai to create an eco-city without affecting untouched nature.

Violent projects

Shanghai has chosen a model for urbanization called a "flower city". Nine “new cities” are being built around the old city center. Outside, 60 small towns and 600 satellite towns are being built again. Thus Shanghai does not grow uncontrolled from the center. With several new cities you can experiment with different planning and housing solutions. An environmental city should be a good fit for this concept, says Zhao Min, but he doubts that it will be any of Dongtan's plans. High-level leaders oppose it, he says.

- In China, everyone is talking about sustainable

development, but when it comes to talking about money, the builders always go for the cheapest possible, says Eva Wang.

She runs many years in the US architectural firm in Shanghai, and has drawn plans for several small towns in the Chang Delta, including residential

the Jingwei Urban Oasis area of ​​Shanghai, which has received awards from UNESCO and the Ministry of the Environment.

Eva Wang thinks the authorities are taking

the environmental challenges serious enough, but when the projects come to the contractors, environmental thoughts in the pursuit of cutting costs disappear.

- The authorities really want to create sustainable development, but they do not know how. Real estate companies only care about that in their marketing, says Eva Wang.

- I try to suggest energy saving

solutions, such as awnings for lowering

temperature inside or double glazing, but it is always discarded. They just want quick gains, she says.

More on the course

Dennis Pamlin thinks the Ministry of the Environment in China is toothless. If the promises come to power, the Ministry of Trade and Industry must also be included, he believes.

WWF is working to gain perspectives on resource efficiency and sustainability analysis into the ongoing EU-China trade negotiations.

It is still far away. As Pamlin says: Many people in China talk about everything about the environment and sustainability is one way to make sure China stays in poverty, since the way of life in the West is so much more harmful to the environment than it is to the average Chinese.

Translated by Gro Stueland Skorpen

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