Tianjin, Dongtan, Caofeidian

Posted on March, 01 2012

Steering urbanisation in an ecological direction 

Steering urbanisation in an ecological direction

A sustainable city district for 350,000 people is being built in Tianjin. Another project, Dongtan outside Shanghai, plans for 500,000 inhabitants, but has stalled. And Caofeidian, an entirely new city for more than a million people, is under construction on the coast outside Tangshan. These are three of more than 100 "Eco-City" projects launched in China in recent years.

Keywords: Eco-cities, China, low-carbon, sustainable building, new construction

The eco-city concept has been used by a large number of different projects in China in recent years. This is because both China's Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, and its Ministry of Environmental Protection, have created different national standards for the concept, with the intention of promoting local environmental practices. More than 100 projects have been initiated, some are new construction projects and some are broader in range, integrating goals for energy and efficiency. According to a 2009 World Bank report, the concept still lacks elements for creating a comprehensive environmental policy, for instance in land use, renewable energy, and greenhouse gas emissions. China has in recent years begun using the term Low Carbon City, however, commencing pilot projects with more comprehensive sustainability policies. In the 12th five-year plan (2011-2015) this has been elevated to official policy (see also Baoding and Shanghai).

Several eco-cities involve large and ambitious new building projects, which have arisen on the initiative of these cities with international collaboration, such as the Sino-British Dongtan in Shanghai, the Caofeidian in Tangshan and the Sino-Singaporean Tianjin eco-city (see also Masdar). Some of the projects have run into problems, and others, such as Dongtan, have been put on hold. According to the World Bank, the most important lesson to be learned from the failed projects is that they must have strong local support if plans are to go beyond the drawing board.

Tianjin eco-city
The Tianjin eco-city is being constructed on the outskirts of port city Tianjin, one of China's largest cities, located 200 km from Beijing. It is a joint project between Tianjin and Singapore, receiving support from the World Bank after the project was analysed in the report Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City: A Case Study of an Emerging Eco-City in China. Construction has commenced, and when finished in 2020, a new medium-sized city of 350,000 inhabitants will have been annexed to Tianjin.

The Word Bank’s appraisal is that the project looks promising: "above all it articulates a vision for developing a city in a more sustainable ecological manner from the beginning." The vision is an ecological model city of low-carbon emissions that can be replicated by other Chinese cities. In some areas the project goes beyond the efforts of the average Chinese eco-city: the percentage of "green buildings" (100%), public transport (90% of journeys), energy from renewable sources (20%), water (50% non-conventional sources), waste segregation (60%) and targets for greenhouse gas emissions and affordable housing. Singapore is contributing with its experience in urban planning and water management.

Dongtan put on hold
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.

Gigantic project Caofeidian
Caofeidian is one of the largest projects. An eco-city for more than a million inhabitants is being built here, 80 km from Tangshan in northeastern China. According to the World Bank, the project is "one of the large-scale development projects the aim of which is to steer rapid urban growth in an ecological direction". A transport system is planned in which public transport will account for 70% of transport, with bicycle and pedestrian traffic making up 20%. Rainwater, desalinated water, and recycled water will constitute 50% of water consumption. Renewable sources will account for more than 50% of energy consumption and, in addition to this, heat from the nearby industrial area will be utilised.

The World Bank, 2009, Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City: A Case Study of an Emerging Eco-City in China, http://www-wds.worldbank.org/external/default/WDSContentServer/WDSP/IB/2011/01/17/000333037_20110117011432/Rendered/PDF/590120WP0P114811REPORT0FINAL1EN1WEB.pdf

The Climate Group, 2010, China Clean Revolution Report III: Low Carbon Development in Cities, Summary, December 2010, http://www.theclimategroup.org/_assets/files/China-Clean-Revolution-III.pdf

Eric Martinot, Li Junfeng, 2007, Powering China’s Development: The Role of Renewable Energy, Worldwatch Institute, Washington, DC, http://www.worldwatch.org/files/pdf/Powering%20China%27s%20Development.pdf

Warren Karlenzig, "China's New National Plan: Green by Necessity", Green Flow, November 29 2010, http://www.commoncurrent.com/notes/2010/11/chinas-new-national-plan-green.html

The World Bank, China, http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/COUNTRIES/EASTASIAPACIFICEXT/CHINAEXTN/0,,menuPK:318956~pagePK:141159~piPK:141110~theSitePK:318950,00.html

Key data are retrieved from the UN World Urbanization Prospects: The 2011 Revision, http://esa.un.org/unup/unup/index_panel2.html

Text by: Martin Jacobson