Chengdu Great City, China

5 Apr

For the first time in history, there are more people living in urban areas than there are in rural areas, which by 2030, are expected to support almost 5 billion people. Cities are swelling to unprecedented sizes. But as Edward Glaeser now famously argues in Triumph of the City, cities also represent our best hope in solving the environmental challenges we collective face, in elevating people from poverty, and in creating meaningful economic development through the power of agglomeration.

Because of the growing importance of cities, 2013 will play host to a vast number of city-building mega projects that will redefine how we shape the places we live in, and their outcomes will set the stage for how and (why) we build cities for the future.

The architects behind the Kingdom Tower — planned to be the world’s first building to reach 1km in height — have been chosen to build a completely new suburban city from scratch on the outskirts of Chengdu in southwest China.

The “Great City” is effectively an entirely new municipality, designed as one whole instead of the chaotic and environmentally inefficient alternative of urban sprawl. The designers ( Adrian Smith + Gordin Gill Architecture, based in Chicago) have marked out a 1.3km2 circle surrounded by 1.9km2 of farmland and parks.

Personal automobiles will not operate within the city, relying entirely on transit and walking or cycling to move around. Energy consumption is anticipated to be significantly lower than what would be expected for urban areas with a similar population; 48% less energy, 58% less water, 60% less carbon dioxide and 89% less waste.

If the model is successful, the Great City will be copied on the edges of China’s other megalopolises and their populations continue to boom — putting pressure on housing, infrastructure and the environment.

The architects claim that the city will be built around the farmland that already exists in the patch of land allocated for the Great City, while within the 1.3km2 city area itself 15% of land will be devoted to parks and landscaped space”. Another 25% will be allocated for infrastructure like roads (of which only half will be accessible to cars, as many residents will be expected not to need them) and the final 60% of land will hold tall, glass-and-steel tower blocks like those found in any other new large development in China. If people need to get out of the Great City, there are public transportation stations on the perimeter and in the middle.

The 80,000 people expected to live in the Great City would give it a population density of 61,538 people per square kilometre. This is an unprecedented level of population density, if we compare it to London, the most densely populated boroughs in the inner city have a density of around 10,000 people per square kilometre. The purpose of this is to fit as many people in the smallest space possible whilst ensuring that the city can still function on a business level and a personal one.

Developments like the Great City are part of a concerted effort on the part of the Chinese government to start rectifying some of the mistakes of the past two decades of mass urbanisation.

It also offers an intriguing alternative to the urban sprawl seen in western cities over the past few decades, which has tended to favour low density housing planned out in repetitive streets — often under the assumption that everyone would get around by car.

The Chengdu Great City started construction in the fall of 2012, and is expected to be completed by 2021. If successful, China aims to replicate the success across the country on the outskirts of its burgeoning cities.


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Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier – Edward Glaeser, 2012


One Response to “Chengdu Great City, China”

  1. Zoe Skousbo April 9, 2013 at 4:57 pm #

    The plans of Chengdu’s ‘Great City’ offers a promising new improvements and focus on environmental and social conditions which are becoming increasingly prevalent in recent years. Such a project bears similarities to projects such as Songdo City in South Korea and Lusail City in Qatar, echoing a global awareness to create thoroughly modern, efficient and eco-friendly metropolis’ in the light of future problems such as resource scarcity and pollution. As Beijing and Shanghai struggle with smog and rampant environmental issues that have brought great concern to the Chinese public, it seems building completely new cities from nothing may be the only way for which to deal with the increasing urban populations across the world. As infrastructure can be designed from scratch, it will ease pressure on cities whom rely on sometimes ancient and incredibly inefficient infrastructure. If the projected figures of 89% less landfill waste prove to be true, the city will be a huge success not just for the Chinese people, but for its wildlife and ecosystems. The emphasis on green space and farmland is also a welcome aspect that will hopefully be copied across China and other countries globally who are struggling with overpopulation and vast urban sprawls that are hard to maintain. The city also offers a resolute alternative to the modern Western city that are designed with low-density housing and roads suitable for cars which are rather inefficient for the specific needs of China.


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