Friday, January 24, 2020

China’s plans for liveable cities

Feb 04. 2018
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By Suwatchai Songwanich
Chief executive Officer,
Bangkok Bank (China)

Turning Thailand’s main centres into truly “liveable cities”, where people are free to walk, cycle or travel on public transport, would decrease our reliance on private transport, reduce pollution and increase the wellbeing of city-dwellers.

However, anyone who has spent any time in our largest cities – Bangkok in particular – will know that the heat, traffic emissions, and lack of walkability present large obstacles in the “greening” of Thailand. Surprisingly for some, we can look to our Chinese neighbour – where entire green cities are currently in development – for tips for success on a much larger scale.

Dogged for decades by dangerously low air quality, China has recently been addressing its environmental impact. I’ve written previously about the country’s complex bike-sharing market, and its use of agricultural drones to reduce pollution levels. These advances are important because they help to change behaviours. Most recently, China’s plans to adapt several of its most polluted hubs into high-tech “garden” and “forest” cities are pushing its environmentalism into another gear.

A leading example is the Nanjing Vertical Forest project, designed by Italian architect Stefano Boeri, which aims to cover two neighbouring towers top-to-bottom in living plants. The outside of the towers will be adorned with over 2,500 shrubs and 23 species of trees, while the inside will house offices, a sustainable architecture academy, a luxury hotel, and a museum. 

This vertical forest won’t just be visually striking, it will also be able to absorb 25 tonnes of carbon dioxide from Nanjing’s air each year and produce 60 kilograms of oxygen per day.

While these kinds of discrete projects will have notable environmental impacts, Boeri regards them as the architectural equivalent of skin grafts, while entire “forest cities” are more like an organ transplant.

The Xiongan New Area is one such forest city. Situated in one of China’s most polluted provinces, 70 per cent of this high-tech special economic zone will eventually be covered in trees and wetlands. The city’s core infrastructure, including utilities and transport, will be built underground to prioritise green spaces and pedestrians aboveground, where world-class technology and local ecology will exist side-by-side.

While we can continue to improve and expand our public transport networks throughout Thailand, and focus on making our cities more accessible, China’s aspirational forest city plans have the potential to change the landscape of China (and its neighbours) forever.

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