Eco-cities are in vogue. Renown eco-architect William McDonough has long been a champion, global engineering firm Arup is building a high-profile one near Shanghai, and earlier this year, Abu Dhabi announced its own eco-city intentions through the Masdar Initiative.
The Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city is among the latest projects to join this growing movement. First announced last November (click here for an interesting piece on how Tianjin was first selected as the site for the eco-city), the Tianjin eco-city projecy is jointly planned and managed by the governments of Singapore and Tianjin, and will cover an area of 30 square kilometers and is projected to be inhabited by some 300,000 residents. A master plan is to be completed by March, and ground is to be broken by July. The eco-city will integrate sustainable design and engineering covering at least 18 aspects, including public transportation, buildings, waste management and recycling, energy efficiency, air quality.
While the design of utopic eco-cities have been the stuff of science fiction for decade, commitments to actually make such science fiction reality is a more recent phenomenon, but one stemming out of imperative rather than coincidence. China is witnessing the largest scale of rural-to-urban migration in history. As of the end of 2006, some 44% of China’s population lived in urban areas; that figure is set to grow to as much as 70% by 2050, consisting of 1.1 billion people engaging in economic activities that are more energy intensive than rural activities and will put a heavy strain on resources unless more sustainable paths to development are deployed.
According to this piece from WorldChanging, if McDonough’s and Arup’s experiences are to be any indication, execution of the best-laid plans to build an eco-city may prove challenging. For an eco-city to truly come alive, green living must capture the hearts and minds of all levels of government and a significant portion of the residents, otherwise, the purpose and function of the city’s green infrastructure will not be fully utilized or properly maintained. It is important to realize that a city is not merely a static collection of buildings and roads, but consists of an organic, dynamic and evolving living space in which people adapt to or modify over time. If such adaptations or modifications are not consistent with the ecological design, the eco-city is doomed to fail. Viewed another way, that would be like installing the eco-city hardware with faulty software, causing the system to underperform, or worse still, overheat.