From the 2016 Archive - Expansion & environmental protection
Chengdu is one of the world’s fastest growing cities. After the industrialisation of the 1980s, the city became known as the most polluted in China. Chengdu is cradled by a system of major tributaries of the Yangtze that could be fished as late as the 1960s, but whose mismanagement led to contaminated water, droughts, floods, and the spread of slums.



The cleanup of the Fu and Nan rivers received international attention – and UN Habitat awards. Chengdu succeeded through the strength of its own initiative, even though it was one of the poorest in China at the time. Involving inhabitants and local companies was key. Financing was generated by increases in land prices in areas that formerly had been slums. Slum dwellers moved to subsidised, newly-built housing. The UN highlighted the social dimension of Chengdu’s work, as it demonstrated that a poor town could clean up its environment, manage freshwater, and create a vision for a sustainable future, using only its own resources. Chengdu’s pioneering work included:
  • 500,000 jobs created
  • 16 km of river dredged
  • 750,000 cubic metres of sludge cleaned
  • 42 km of trenches excavated
  • 18 bridges and 12 new shipyards built
  • 1000 polluting companies closed, renovated or relocated
  • 100 public latrines renovated
  • 26 km of sewage pipes laid along the river
  • two new sewage treatment plants built
  • rivers widened to prevent flooding
  • plantations and parks established on river banks
  • traffic around the rivers redirected, reducing congestion
  • a “living water-garden” revived the traditional Dragon Boat Festival.
River remediation work was expanded upstream to the Minjiang River during the 2000s. The Minjiang flows through the district of Wenjiang, the centre of the ancient kingdom of Shu, and the river cleanup was praised by the UN. Rivers even further upstream, vital for fresh water, are also to be protected. Work on the rivers inspired Chengdu to construct a Giant Panda Sanctuary and the Dujiangyan Ecological Model Zone. In these efforts, Chengdu’s politicians have been helped by the Chengdu Urban Rivers Association (CURA), a local NGO working to protect the water of the region.

A Multitude of Projects

The city is building smart electricity and communication systems. It has delivered one of the China’s first large-scale Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems, and is still expanding the metro and trams. It is enhancing the city’s forests, and has hundreds of projects for reducing pollution to water and air. It is reforming agriculture, investing in renewable sources of energy, closing coal mines, and has a program of action for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.

Evidence of the extent of Chengdu’s leadership, and what it has to offer other cities around the world, comes in the form of partnerships including a special collaboration with Bonn involving an exchange of skill information, and collaborative development of opportunities.

Want to know more about Urban solutions?

Contact Barbara Evaeus
Global Communications Manager,
WWF One Planet City Challenge
+46 70 393 9030




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Text by: Martin Jacobson
Last edited: 2017-03-15