“There is an ecological apocalypse unfolding in China right now.” The statistics bear the point.
There are approximately 300,000 premature deaths each year attributed to air pollution alone. A quarter of China’s 1.3 billion people do not have access to clean drinking water. China has the world’s fastest growing auto market, giving it the notorious label of the world’s leader in vehicle fatalities and second in oil consumption behind the US. Currently, the world’s second largest greenhouse gas emitter, China is on pace to surpass the US in 2008 — some researchers even argue that it already has.
During the spring 2007 semester, students at Tongji University in Shanghai, China and the University of California, Berkeley in the United States took on this challenge, collaborating on a design studio in Jiaxing, China, a second-tier city 80km outside of Shanghai. The group included undergraduate and graduate students pursuing coursework in architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning and urban design, as well as faculty and professionals from both countries.
The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, a private foundation based in San Francisco, California provided a grant to the group to explore international urban sustainability. The Jiaxing City Government partnered with our group and posed a set of urban development research questions to the students. The charge was to develop a plan for the City in anticipation of a proposed high-speed rail line connecting the Shanghai Pudong International Airport to Hangzhou, with stops in Shanghai and Jiaxing. As an added challenge, Jiaxing’s station stop was proposed in an agricultural area 10km away from the existing central city. This new rail line could connect Jiaxing to Shanghai in 15 minutes and to the airport in less than a half hour. What would this compression in time and space mean for Jiaxing?
The students identified two major challenges to address: China’s environmental crisis and connecting the proposed rail station to the central city
First, the students proposed a transit corridor between the new station and the existing city center. They recognized the opportunity to create a new hub within the City, but wanted to maximize accessibility to the new station and the central city, to encourage investment in both anchors as well as in the corridor between them.
Second, they proposed an integrated sustainable design strategy for Jiaxing. Adopting the “3 E’s” principles of ecology, economy and equity, they endeavored to improve Jiaxing’s air and water quality, expand renewable energy sources and reduce waste, while maintaining a competitive economy. Moreover, they sought to create an equitable design that would accommodate all types of people, regardless of age, income or other status.
Despite the troubling statistics, there is opportunity to make real improvements in China’s environment, if the government and citizens choose to take on the challenge. Through sustainable design and policy measures, China has the potential to emerge from environmental crisis as an environmental leader. Jiaxing could serve as a model for sustainable development in China, providing its citizens a better life and a more environmentally sound, economically strong and equitable society.
 Porritt, Jonathon. “China: The Most Important Story in the World.” Green Futures. September 2006: 3.