The Green and Smart Urban Development Guidelines provide a simple yet high-quality formula to set a new default for Chinese cities.
City life in today’s China is taking new shapes. Chenggong, a new city district outside of Kunming, is being built in small blocks to tilt transportation towards walking and away from driving. Board a bus in Guangzhou, and the doors open all at once in subway-like fashion before the bus motors down an exclusive BRT lane, cutting congestion and costs. Other neighborhoods, such as Liuyun Xiaoqu, are reinventing their cityscapes by creating car-free zones where pedestrians can walk and shop without the hazards and omnipresent pollution of cars.
While we are continuously learning more about what makes human habitats both livable and sustainable, a consensus has emerged on the most foundational and necessary design principles. Last year, China Development Bank Capital, Energy Innovation, and Energy Foundation created the Guidelines for Green and Smart Urban Development to outline these design principles. The guidelines are highly aligned with the Chinese government’s recent efforts to redirect cities away from sprawl and towards sustainability.
We found that there are 12 that are the most important for urban designers, planners and developers to incorporate into the planning stage. Our approach quantifies these principles to prevent greenwashing. The beauty of these design principles is that they are simple – anyone can understand them and evaluate the sustainability of their own city.
Please download the full report here for details on metrics, best practices, and case studies.
Here is a quick rundown of our 12 Green Guidelines:
1. Urban Growth Boundary: We recommend that every city has an urban growth boundary to prevent sprawl, encourage infill development, and preserve natural resources.
2. Transit-Oriented Development: Transit capacity must be matched to density. This provides better access to public transit and decreases car use. Ensuring that the greatest number of people have access to the best transit options is vital to decreasing car use.
3. Mixed-use: The intermingling of residential, commercial, and residential uses guarantees residents access to amenities. We recommend that all residents should be at least within 500-meter radius of at least five basic amenities.
4. Small Blocks: Small blocks create a dense mesh of narrower streets and paths that are more pedestrian friendly. They shift people away from cars, which can also improve air quality. They also optimize the flow of traffic.
5. Public Green Space: Attractive public spaces can bring vitality to any city space. Oriol Bohigas, a famous Spanish urban planner, said that “public space is the city.” Without enough public green space, high levels of density can make urban areas feel crowded and uncomfortable. Green space also improves local air quality.
6. Non-motorized Transit: Of the Theory of Relativity, Albert Einstein said, “I thought of that while riding my bike.” The most attractive cities in the world emphasize the pedestrian environment at a human scale. Walking and biking require less energy than any other type of transportation. Before cars, cities were designed for people. For example, as shown in the photo below, older areas in Shanghai tend to have more people-friendly design characteristics that make them more walkable, bike-friendly, and livable than newer areas.
Older parts of Shanghai boast narrower roads, more storefronts, and well-designed sidewalks and pedestrian crossing areas (Source: CC Huang).
7. Public Transit: If public transit is a first-class option, people will often choose not to drive. However, public transit must be well-integrated with biking and walking to solve the “last-mile” question of how people will get to their final destinations.
8. Car Control: Even with just one-tenth of Chinese currently owning a car, the major cities already have serious pollution and congestion. Car control will be essential to make streets safer for children and the elderly, alleviate costly congestion and pollution, and rejuvenate public space.
The social cost of driving is often not accounted for when cities are making economically based decisions around urban development (Source: CC Huang).
9. Green Buildings: Buildings account for a significant amount of urban emissions. Green buildings, especially when their energy use is properly monitored and managed, can mean significantly less emissions, improved air quality, and more comfort for users.
10. Renewable and District Energy: District energy can result in 30-50 percent reduction in primary energy consumption. Renewable energy is also falling rapidly in cost and increasing in efficiency.
11. Waste Management: For waste management to be sustainable, a significant amount of waste must be diverted from landfills. All buildings should have a waste classification system so that most waste is either composted or recycled.
12. Water Efficiency: Water-efficient fixtures, appliances, and plants can easily decrease water use. Buildings should implement water-saving appliances and green spaces surrounding buildings should use low water-use plants. Wastewater and rainwater should also be recycled and re-used.
Cities around the world have already put all 12 guidelines into practice, demonstrating their success in creating holistic sustainability, prosperity, and livability. Portland and Stockholm are two leading examples. Benefits include decreased climate impact, improved conservation, economic savings, and higher quality of life. Even car-centric cities like Los Angeles are now developing public transit and adding more biking and walking paths.
Chinese cities are also going green. Few have been able to put all of the pieces together as of yet, but new opportunities are arising. The 12 Guidelines are being implemented in a pilot project tin Shijiazhuang, the capital city of Hebei province, over the coming years. With the urban population expected to swell in China over the next 15 years, the guidelines offer these growing cities a roadmap for how to proceed towards a sustainable future.
Banner image: This artistic rendition of a walkable urban area shows paths dedicated to biking and walking, small blocks, car control, and public space (Source: Boshi Fu).