Enter the eco-city

more wild building design

Peter Reefman takes ReNew on a tour of China’s changing landscape, where the next 300 cities will be built as eco-cities.

Over the past 30 years, China has grown from an insular country with a predominantly rural population of 1.1 billion to a country with over 1.3 billion people living mainly in cities. In that same time, the proportion of people living below the international poverty line has dropped from 85% to 15%.

This rapid urbanisation and increase in wealth is unprecedented throughout the world. However, the price China and the world have paid is an equally unparalleled increase in pollution and environmental degradation. China has seen toxic pollutants rise to dangerous levels and an explosion in greenhouse gas emissions that is undoubtedly contributing to climate change.

China’s surge has occurred at a time when the world as a whole is reaching pollution and resource limits, along with the ever-growing realisation that human-caused climate change will disrupt the planet’s climate in ways that civilisation may not be able to cope with. In short, like the whole world, China desperately needs to find a way to greatly reduce toxic pollution and greenhouse gas levels, and create healthy places for people to live and prosper.

Enter the eco-city

The threat of climate change has seen pilot environmental settlements, dubbed ecocities, get built right across the world. Well—in Australia the settlements are more accurately called eco-villages, as they typically house up to just 1000 people. Examples include the Currumbin eco-village in Queensland, the Beyond Today project in South Australia and the Cape Paterson eco-village in Victoria.

In China, however, where the scale of everything is staggering, the many pilot projects are certainly eco-cities, places where large numbers of people (hundreds of thousands in many cases) can spend their lives in clean, sustainable built environments.

There are currently no global or Chinese standards for eco-cities to be accredited under, but there are some common goals. As a starter, they’re intended to be places where people can live, go to school, work, shop, play sport, see arts etc; in short, everything that a normal city enables people to do.

Because there are no accreditations to achieve, eco-cities vary in their sustainability specifications and aspirations. But a good ecocity should address many key criteria. These encompass the use of green energy, energy efficiency, sustainable transport, biodiversity protection, waste minimisation and reuse, sustainable use of water (potable and natural systems), zero-pollution industries, local organically grown food, healthy lifestyles and social inclusion.

Not all eco-cities include all of the above. In fact, very few do. But as more are planned and constructed, the knowledge gained is leading to ‘higher quality’ eco-cities with more sustainability features. This is particularly the case in China, which has the largest number of these projects.

Read the full article in ReNew 127

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