Eco Cities in China – Sustainability with Chinese Characteristics

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Graham Coutts
International Director, Shanghai

As China urbanizes at an unprecedented rate, the need for strong environmental and sustainability measures is at the forefront of urban planning. Throughout China, zero emission, low noise electric bicycles and scooters are enormously popular and inexpensive and a complete contrast to the noisy fume emitting and inefficient two-stroke pedicabs and motorbikes prevalent in most Asian cities.  Whilst the industry is heavily reliant on coal, residential consumption of coke for heating and cooking, a major contributor to poor urban air quality has dramatically reduced and low tech low cost biogas units are increasingly adopted by rural households.  Public and non-motorised transport usage is amongst the highest in the world, with efficient mass transit systems being rapidly rolled out across many of China’s cities from Chengduto Dalian. 

At the same time, local initiatives to create parklands, relocate industry, restore waterways with riverside parks and promenades, pedestrianize streets and revitalize heritage districts are popular features of cities from Shanghaito Tianjin, ChengdutoZhengzhou. Solar water-heating, solar street lighting and even solar kettles are ubiquitous in parts of China, with the country’s per capita residential energy consumption less than 30% of that the US and 35% of the UK’s.

Neighbourhood planning ensures that areas are well served by public transport and social infrastructure, with ample provision for local business and amenities. Initiatives ranging from electric capacitor buses to mandated low energy light bulbs are helping make Chinese cities sustainable from both an environmental and societal perspective. 

In many of these areas,China’s ability to innovate, improvise and particularly to implement is enabling it to respond to the unprecedented challenges of its relentless urbanization, building communities which are sustainable with Chinese characteristics.

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