Outside Chengdu, in central China, a 78 million square foot site has been determined for an unconventional sort of construction project. It will be a city built from scratch, for 80,000 people, none of whom will need a car to get around.
The "Great City" is a plan for an ambitious urban center designed to limit its residents environmental impact by producing clean energy, reducing waste, and promoting public transportation over individual car use.
The project is the work of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, who note that "Chinese planning officials [are] beginning to see the effects of automobile-dependent design and are open to better alternatives to urban sprawl."
It has been called the "Car-Free City," a moniker that is not entirely accurate. The architecture firm notes that the vision is for a city where "cars will be essentially unnecessary," but allowed.
The master plan includes many good ideas. Half the road space will be reserved for non-motorized traffic, and electric shuttles will get people where they cannot or do not want to walk. All homes will be within a two-minute walk of a public park.
An "eco-park" will treat wastewater and solid waste, and generate power. Land outside the city will be reserved for farming. Wildlife habitat will be protected. Buildings have been designed to maximize the use of wind power; the planners decided Chengdu's hazy climate is not conducive to solar power.
All told, Smith and Gill expect to cut energy use by 48 percent, water use by 58 percent, and produce 89 percent less waste, compared to a conventional development with a similar population.
Going beyond environmental impact, Smith and Gill designed Great City to provide residents with affordable housing, education, and medical care, all clustered in the city center to encourage a thriving civic life.
It's a lovely vision for anyone concerned by climate change and social inequity, and the effectiveness of the power, transportation, and recycling systems will be judged once in place. But the project as a whole raises some questions.
Can a city built so quickly stand the test of time? What happens to the architects' scheme if residents don't behave as expected? And even if this eco-city works as planned, what can China do to translate this program to the hundreds of millions of people living in older cities?
Still, considering the rate at which China is urbanizing, a proven plan for minimizing the environmental impact of new cities would be worth a lot.
The design is the work of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture.
It will be built on the fringes of Chengdu, a city of 17 million people.
The master plan calls for a dense city surrounded by farmland. The team is also considering vertical farming in buildings.
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