In the planet's currently most populous country, ecology has certainly not kept pace with the economy. Over the years, China's unprecedented economic growth has put a terrible strain upon the country's natural resources, leading to widespread and severe pollution of air, land, and water — not just within China itself, but for neighboring countries that are being impacted by toxic air and water that knows no boundaries. Prior to the 2008 Summer Olympics, Chinese authorities made every effort to improve air quality for the benefit of the athletes and other visitors to Beijing, including shutting down nearby factories and even trying to control the weather to induce greater rainfall to clean the air of pollutants.
Yet the country is also making limited efforts that promise much longer-term solutions. One of these is the transformation of Dongtan — currently a wildlife preserve — into a city that may be close to Shanghai in terms of distance, but far ahead in terms of environmental sustainability. If all goes as planned, Dongtan will be the first city in China with zero net carbon emissions. According to a series of articles and videos published by Clean Air through Green Roofs (an environmental blog), Dongtan is intended to be energy self-sufficient through a combination of biofuels, solar power, and wind power. It will be composed of extremely efficient buildings organized into dense, walkable neighborhoods — eventually housing half a million people. Its food will be produced by a network of advanced organic farms. No carbon-emitting vehicles will be allowed within the city, and at least 90 percent of all waste will be recycled.
This massive project is being designed by the London-based Arup Group, for Shanghai Industrial Investment Corporation (SIIC), which will have the authority to make all final decisions. Arup Group will utilize a proprietary system, Integrated Resource Management (IRM), which can optimize the use of land, living space, energy, waste, and water — resources all in limited supply within China. The project is being funded primarily by HSBC — whose history as a major bank in the region extends back to 1865 — and Sustainable Development Capital LLP (SDCL) — which focuses on projects that are environmentally and socially responsible.
Even though the urban planning will leverage the most up-to-date ecological techniques — including green roofs — individual architects and developers will be allowed to create buildings that reflect Chinese culture. The massive skyscrapers characteristic of Beijing and Shanghai, will never rob the sunlight from Dongtan's green roofs, because no building will be allowed to exceed eight stories.
We can only hope that Dongtan proves to be a successful city in its own right, and can in turn serve as a springboard for China, as well as the rest of the world, to eventually make all of our cities clean and green.