Worlds first forest city to tackle climate change in China
14 February 2018 | Adaptation
Despite its green credentials as a “zero emission, net carbon-positive, sustainable” development, 68 out of 69 nearby residents have objected to the scheme.
“It is not at all in keeping with the area and dwarfs nearby properties,” said one. “The design is unattractive. Covering it in greenery doesn’t fool anyone.”
But 5,700 miles away in Liuzhou in southern China attitudes could not be more different.
The authorities there have given the go-ahead to not one but 70 buildings cascading with foliage.
In short, the construction of a revolutionary “forest city” whose one million plants and 40,000 trees will “eat” its own toxic smog.
In a country where more than a million people a year die from the effects of air pollution, environmentally-friendly architecture is all the rage these days.
And the Liuzhou Municipality Urban Planning Bureau has signed up Italian architect Stefano Boeri, the father of the forest city movement, to build a self-contained community for up to 30,000 people.
He is the go-to man for such projects these days thanks to the success of his “vertical forests”, two residential towers in Milan covered in the equivalent of five acres of plant life.
Completed in 2014, they remove up to 17.5 tons of soot from the air each year, according to Boeri, and a year later one of them was named Best Tall Building Worldwide.
The Liuzhou project is a much more ambitious undertaking, however. Its homes, hospitals, hotels, schools and offices will be built on a 340-acre site in what Boeri calls the first attempt to create an “urban environment that is really trying to find a balance with nature”.
Its 100 species of plant life are expected to absorb almost 10,000 tons of carbon dioxide and 57 tons of pollutants per year, while at the same time producing 900 tons of life-giving oxygen.
What’s more, the greenery will decrease the ambient air temperature and provide a new habitat for displaced wildlife.
Meanwhile, roof-mounted solar panels will generate renewable energy to power the buildings, while geothermal energy – generated by exploiting the heat trapped in the Earth’s crust – will power air-conditioning.
Although the architects haven’t published the cost of the forest city, the Milan towers cost only five per cent more than traditional skyscrapers.
China’s enthusiasm for projects of this sort is driven by a belated recognition that it is paying an increasingly heavy price for its race to achieve economic growth at all costs over the past three decades.
As the country underwent its equivalent of Europe’s 19th-century Industrial Revolution, millions of people a year forsook their jobs on the land for a new life in the city.
In 2011, China’s urban population outnumbered its rural population for the first time: 690 million versus 656 million.
As a result there are now more than 160 cities in China with over one million residents. And all too often they are blanketed in smog.
Things got so bad in the Chinese capital Beijing one day in December 2016 that the authorities declared a five-day pollution “red alert”.
Schools were shut, thousands of vehicles were ordered off the roads and residents were told to stay indoors.
Chinese government to tackle 'severe' pollution
City officials were also reported to have “penalised” 388 people for lighting barbecues and fires outdoors.
But Dong Liansai, a Beijing-based climate and energy campaigner for environmental group Greenpeace, said coal-fired power stations, not barbecues, were to blame for the unusually severe bout of pollution.
“Coal is the number one source,” said Dong, warning that the smog contained tiny airborne particulates known as PM2.5 which were linked to numerous “adverse health effects” including lung cancer, asthma and heart disease.
In a bid to reduce its reliance on coal, the Chinese government has set up a series of large-scale wind farms. But it is investing in cure as well as prevention.
A year ago Boeri, who set up a branch of his architectural practice in Shanghai in 2014, unveiled plans for two neighbouring towers coated with 1,100 trees – in a range of 23 species – and more than 2,500 shrubs in the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing.
His visionary solution to this problem is to build a series of sustainable mini cities that could be a blueprint for the future of urban China.
The first such settlement will be the one at Liuzhou, a mid-sized Chinese city of about 1.5 million residents in the mountainous southern province of Guangxi, with a second project planned for Shijiazhuang, an industrial hub in northern China that is consistently among the country’s ten most polluted cities.
Boeri reckons Chinese officials are finally coming to terms with the need to embrace a new, more sustainable model of urban planning that involves not “huge megalopolises” but settlements of 100,000 people or fewer that were entirely constructed of “green architecture”.
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“They have created these nightmares – immense metropolitan environments. They have to imagine a new model of city that is not about extending and expanding but a system of small, green cities.”
Skyscrapers are an integral part of Boeri’s model because they accommodate more people in a given geographical footprint than low-rise homes and thus spare agricultural land and countryside.
But it will be some time before we see the fruits of his grand plan. The construction of his forest city at Luizhou is set to begin in 2020, and there is still a great deal of planning and research required before a projected completion date can be set.
However, Boeri remains optimistic about the project and has confidence in the soundness of his vision: “I really think that bringing forests into the city is a way to reduce climate change.”