Green Snippets

cross-posted at the paper tiger

Some interesting environmental news related to China.

First, activist Yu Xiaogang, founder of the environmental group, Green Watershed, is one of this year’s recipients of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, which he accepted at a ceremony in San Francisco. It is one of the continuing paradoxes of modern China, where political competition is relentlessly stifled, that an environmental activist who organizes local communities that are impacted by the seemingly endless hydroelectric projects on China’s rivers is able to do work which directly empowers people to participate in decisions that affect their lives. Go read the interview with Yu at Grist Magazine. Here’s an excerpt:

Q: I understand that the watershed project inspired many local residents to speak publicly about their experiences. How did you encourage them to break their tradition of silence?

A: For about six years, we have had several kinds of workshops in Lashi Lake, and all of them are very participatory. So the local people have practiced this approach, and gradually they know that they can speak for their own interests, and change their lives themselves. For instance, one of the local people participated in a United Nations hydropower meeting in Beijing, where he could freely dialogue with hydropower CEOs and the decision-makers in the Chinese central government. He could talk with these leaders to protect his interests and his community’s interests.

Q: What kind of opposition did you encounter as you developed the project?

A: There were many challenges — there are still many rumors about me, about my organization, about the management of the project. There are some rumors that the organization is illegal, and that any people who participate in it should be careful. Many people think I have a secret agenda.

Any activity that involves organizing people outside of the CCP’s auspices involves a certain degree of risk. Kudos and congratulations to Yu Xiaogang. China’s future depends on people like him.

Several British papers have reported on a Green city to be built near Shanghai. The most comprehensive article is in the Independent:

Soaring demand for energy and heavy dependence on coal, China is often depicted as the world’s environmental bogeyman. Yet Dongtan, a ground-breaking eco-city to be built near Shanghai, is already setting new standards in sustainable urban planning and inspiring decision-makers worldwide – including London’s mayor, Ken Livingstone.

Dongtan will be built just 3km from a bird sanctuary whose varied residents include the endangered black-faced spoonbill (just one thousand of these large, white wading birds are estimated to remain in the wild). And its location, in protected wetlands on Chongming Island at the mouth of the Yangtze river, doesn’t exactly sound like a good starting point for an environmentally sustainable city with a population of half a million.

But Dongtan’s designers insist that it’s a blueprint for how cities could support, rather than destroy, the environment. For its two major goals are to generate zero carbon emissions and cut average energy demands by two thirds via a unique city layout, energy infrastructure and building design.

“Two years ago we were approached to assess the likely ecological impact of developing a city in an area adjacent to protected wetland,” says Alejandro Gutierrez, design leader for Dongtan at Arup Urban Design, London. “Our belief was that there was a wonderful opportunity to build a new city that, through its design and construction, would also address a broader range of concerns, such as air quality, and energy demand.”…

…Dongtan will be built on an island that has grown over the past 100 years from silt dumped by the Yangtze. The Chinese government has consistently reclaimed land from the marshlands around it, but the plan is that Dongtan will be the area’s last piece of development – so further silt deposits will simply increase the available natural habitat for the birds.

Well, the proximity of the bird sanctuary does give one pause. But the plans for Dongtan sound really impressive:

The city itself is being designed around a series of village-style neighbourhoods to make it pedestrian- rather than car-friendly. The alignment of streets will capitalise on the microclimates created by urban development, and the width and aspect of buildings will optimise the benefits of shade and direct sun to ensure efficient energy use. An integrated mix of residential, commercial and industrial areas – common in the West but unusual in China – will ensure people walk to most places they need to reach.

Technology to both generate and save energy will be integrated into buildings and all modes of transport. The emphasis is on making eco-living the norm, rather than trumpeting Dongtan’s green credentials with bold – and, potentially, intimidating – statements.

“We don’t want to replicate a European city in China, or create an alienating futuristic environment,” says urban designer Braulio Morera, who is also working on the Arup team. “We want to reinterpret a Chinese city – and Chinese urban lifestyle – for the 21st century. Bicycles, for example, will be a major feature, as will boats, but the bikes will be powered by renewables, and the boats by hydrogen.”

Dongtan’s developers are also commited to returning agricultural land around the city to its original wetland state. This will create a buffer zone between the city and the marshes that will cut down the spread of pollutants to areas where the black-faced spoonbills congregate. Farmland around the city will grow food for the residents.

The project has implications far beyond China. For better or worse, cities are the future homes for most of humanity. A project like Dongtan could provide a blueprint for sustainable development around the world. It’s a model we desperately need.

The Discussion: No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.