A Collaboration between the Tianjin Urban Planning and Design Institute and the University of California, Berkeley College of Environmental Design
From 1998-2002 China experienced unprecedented growth, with an annual GDP increase of 7.8% – the fastest in the world. It is expected that over the next 20 to 30 years China will complete its transition from a planned to market economy, fully integrate itself into world trade, and become the world’s largest and most powerful economy .
Sustainability is a concern shared by most Western professionals who are consulting with the Chinese government, either directly or indirectly, to devise a development strategy that will support its vigorous growth. Statistics reveal that the U.S., now the world’s largest economy, uses 25% of the world’s natural resources. If China – with four times the U.S.’s population – develops similar consumption patterns, it will consume all of the world’s non-renewable resources when its economy reaches full fruition in 20-30 years.
Rising incomes in China are fueling a dramatic increase in automobile ownership: it is estimated that between 12,000 and 14,000 new cars are added to China’s streets each day, increasing traffic congestion and air pollution, and spawning the development of thousands of kilometers of new highways . Transit-oriented development, or TOD, is one element of a sustainable development strategy that can help to lessen the burden of growing cities on the world’s limited supply of non-renewable resources. TOD, supported by a detailed and integrative policy framework, promotes the efficient use of land and development of a compact urban form, while curbing automobile usage by creating incentives for transit, walking, bicycling and other non-motorized modes of transportation.
Tianjin: a snapshot
Metropolitan Tianjin is the third largest city in China, after Beijing and Shanghai. With a population of 10 million, Tianjin reports directly to the Chinese government and benefits from direct access to centralized sources of funding for large-scale development projects. The port at Tanggu (30 km southeast of Tianjin proper) fuels much of Tianjin’s economy. Tianjin’s major industries include clothing and textiles, chemicals and electronics.
Tianjin’s Central Station is one of northern China’s major railway hubs and serves as a junction point for the Beijing-Shanghai lines, while also providing direct access to other northeastern and southern provinces. After Beijing was chosen to host the 2008 Olympics, the City of Tianjin invested heavily in improvements to urban transport – most prominently a new light rail line connecting Tianjin proper with the port of Tanggu. The City is also expanding existing rail lines within Tianjin proper to support its growing population of residents and commuters.
Studio goals and approach
In the fall of 2004, UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design was asked by the Tianjin Urban Planning and Design Institute to develop principles and prototypes for TOD in Tianjin. The studio was comprised of fifteen graduate students in architecture, landscape architecture and city and regional planning, and led by three instructors. The interdisciplinary nature of the studio sought to combine a wide range of skills to propose a plan for new TOD in Tianjin.
The Institute suggested four sites in Tianjin, from which the studio chose three, as platforms for their ideas. Each site is distinct in its geography, history and local character, but they shared two things in common: first, on each site there is at least on transit station serving the city’s expanding rail system; and second, each site has a direct connection to Tianjin’s network of rivers and canals.
The studio viewed the river as the conceptual “thread” running through the three proposals. Echoing an approach of “ecosystem as infrastructure” , the studio envisioned the river as the City’s main artery, with riverfront paths to feed pedestrians and bicyclists into the larger network of roads and railway transit. A plan for commercial, residential and public land uses would strategically fill in the areas between transit stations and the river, thereby helping the City to gain the most from its investment by directly linking people to the transit system.
The studio authored a broad set of principles to inform the planning and design process. Based on these principles — which are further distilled into a set of strategies and guidelines — we developed prototypes for three sites in Tianjin.
The “kit of parts” breaks this set of principles down into physical components and highlights the more specific elements of each plan. Tianjin Municipal Government can use this menu of options in developing future prototypes for development.
Principle 1 – High Density/Mixed Use
Create high density mixed-use neighborhoods to support transit. A successful transit-oriented development creates a wide range of destinations (offices, community centers, and recreation areas) within easy walking or biking distance of transit.
Principle 2 – Pedestrian/Bicyclist Network
Develop an independent pedestrian and bicycle network to support transit and access through neighborhoods. Directly connecting pedestrian and bicycle-only pathways to transit stations encourages the use of non-motorized transport. These car-free pathways also increase foot traffic visibility for local businesses.
Principle 3 – Transit Connections
Facilitate connections to transit with a fine-grained street grid. An urban street grid works best when it incorporates a clear hierarchy of street types. The grid allows for the dispersion of travel and access through neighborhoods, while the hierarchy provides different street environments to accommodate both faster and slower traffic.
Principle 4 – Public Realm
Create spaces for social interaction. Planning urban neighborhoods with an inviting public realm is key to creating vibrant communities. Streets, parks and open spaces should provide places for recreation and leisure. Buildings should be designed with outward-facing elements — such as balconies and porches — to enliven the streetscape.
Principle 5 – Self-sufficient Neighborhoods
Design “Zero Waste” self-sufficient neighborhoods. Generating much of their power needs on-site, self-sufficient neighborhoods create less demand on the centralized infrastructure for non-renewable resources. Block designs should include systems to generate energy, and to collect and reuse water and waste.
Principle 6 – Heterogeneous Communities
Promote diversity and choice within neighborhoods, encouraging the formation of heterogeneous communities. Neighborhoods should incorporate a range of housing types, services and amenities to allow residents of different income types and lifestyles to live in the same area.
Principle 7 – Existing Site Conditions
Respect the site’s history and natural features by incorporating existing elements into future site plans. One of the most recognizable features in Tianjin is the river network from which the city grew over time. Incorporating existing natural and historical features into new development is an important strategy for creating viable, sustainable communities that identify with the city’s past.
Conclusions and Recommendations
This project examined opportunities for TOD in three very different contexts. While all of the plans are based on the principles of TOD, they apply these principles differently to respond to the characteristics of each site.
We identified several obstacles to effective TOD in Tianjin during our planning and design process.
First, the current development process in China results in large-scale, master-developed projects with repetitive architecture on super-blocks. This development pattern does not support transit and is not consistent with TOD principles of mixed-use, public realm, diversity, and site history. The city should aim to better balance architectural diversity, solar access requirements and environmental sustainability goals.
Second, the city’s efforts to expand roads and build large thoroughfares are not consistent with the TOD principle of connectivity, which requires a dense network of streets. Some may believe that a dense street network causes traffic, but in fact, it provides many alternative routes to travelers, which spreads traffic out. Instead of expanding roads, Tianjin should create a dense network of narrower streets to support transit, bicycling, and walking.
Third, we noted many examples of automobile priority in new development. For example, many new buildings have a large parking lot in front of the building. This facilitates automobile use, but disadvantages pedestrians who have to walk through the parking lot to get to the entrance. It also creates a “dead space” along the street, which is unpleasant for pedestrians and bicyclists. Instead, buildings should be sited close to the street, with any parking in the rear. This encourages people to take transit and then walk or bicycle to the building rather than drive, which reduces traffic and creates a lively streetscape.
Finally, Tianjin has unique natural assets and a special history, but most new development does not reflect this. In order to create a positive image and identity for the city, new development should incorporate these assets, such as the river and canal system, agricultural history, and existing open space.
These are challenging issues, but they are critical to the success of TOD in Tianjin. If Tianjin is committed to TOD, they can be resolved. Our plans and principles provide guidance, and the city can use demonstration projects to test these development models.
We identified seven key steps to implementing TOD in Tianjin. Each is discussed below.
Adopting a clear set of TOD policies is critical. We have developed a proposed set of TOD principles, strategies and guidelines. The City of Tianjin could create a TOD district for all areas within 1 km of a transit station in which these policies would apply. The city could then create a specific plan for each TOD district that outlines a development vision based on these policies [1-4].
Implementing TOD requires the participation of multiple partners . In Tianjin, these may include city agencies, the Tianjin Urban Planning and Design Institute, transit operators (subway, light rail, and bus), the private sector (developers, financial institutions, and other businesses), the central government, and Tianjin residents. Each of these partners can contribute to a distinct aspect of TOD. The city may lease or sell land, provide infrastructure, supply funding, and control the review of development proposals. The Urban Planning and Design Institute and transit operators may work with the city to develop TOD policies and specific plans. The private sector may develop and invest in TOD projects. The central government may provide funding or technical assistance. Finally, Tianjin residents may offer feedback on proposed plans and development proposals. To facilitate coordination, the city could create a TOD committee with representatives from each partner to review and approve development proposals in TOD districts.
Incorporation into Plans
To be truly effective, Tianjin should incorporate TOD concepts and principles into plans at multiple levels — regional, city, and site — as well as into plans of various kinds (i.e. land use, housing, and transit). For example, the city could include TOD principles in its updated General Plan as well as its Transit Plan and the Regional Strategic Plan. Tianjin could also develop a pedestrian plan and a bicycle plan[6,7]. These are critical components of TOD since most transit riders either walk or bicycle to the station.
Architectural diversity is a key element of TOD. A site with many different building types and styles serves a variety of uses and housing needs, which allows a mix of people to live, work, and shop in one area. This can be achieved by encouraging multiple developers to work on a site: a group of developers could work together on each phase of a project; a site could be separated into smaller pieces with different developers for each piece; or the city could limit the total number of units on a site designed or developed by one entity.
Development around stations can also be structured in several ways: a developer could acquire the air rights above an underground station while the city retains control of the ground, the city could lease or sell the land to a developer but keep certain areas for transit facilities, or the city and developer could share construction or operating costs.
In some cases, particularly in suburban or edge stations, it may be necessary to implement the specific plan in several phases. However, a full mix of uses (residential, office, commercial, public facilities, and open space) should be included in each phase if possible. This ensures that the neighborhood functions as a mixed-use community, rather than as isolated islands of housing or office development.
One phasing strategy is land banking. This means concentrating development and density in specific parcels and leaving other parcels undeveloped, or developing them at lower intensity interim uses that allow for higher intensities later. This allows high-density development to occur around the station over a longer time frame, which conserves land and reduces sprawl .
Plan review is important to ensure that proposed development complies with TOD principles and the specific plan. The City could issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) that asks developers to submit proposals for an element of the specific plan. The TOD committee could review these proposals for the quality of their urban and pedestrian design (including traffic and parking), environmental sustainability, and transit impact.
Housing development should serve a variety of incomes. One strategy for this is inclusionary zoning, which requires that a percentage of the units in each development (often 10-20%) are affordable to lower-income households. Another approach is to create a “housing protection district,” in which any affordable housing that is demolished has to be replaced in new buildings. The city could also provide a “density bonus” that allows 15-25% more units than normally allowed under the zoning if developers include a certain percentage of affordable housing units. These units should be scattered throughout the site, not concentrated in one area.
The City of Tianjin is making a significant investment in its rail network. TOD can help Tianjin realize of the benefits of this investment through “value capture” — mechanisms that return to the City some of the economic value generated by the transit system and the development pattern of TOD. For example, lease payments from developers to the city can be adjusted based on the increase in land value due to TOD, as reflected in regular appraisals. Alternatively, the city can require developers to return a percentage of their profits to the city with their lease payments each year.
This “captured value” should not go to the City’s general fund. It should further support TOD by subsidizing or enhancing transit, paying for landscaping and maintenance of parks and public facilities, or providing funding for affordable housing. Revenues could also go to a “TOD fund” for future TOD projects.
TOD and Tianjin’s Future
Tianjin currently faces many challenges: a booming population, rapid growth in vehicle ownership, and increasing congestion and pollution. At the same time, the city has great assets: a rich history, a river and canal network, strong neighborhoods, and a growing transit system.
By investing in transit, Tianjin is taking an important step towards a more sustainable future. TOD represents the next step. The principles, plans, and guidelines outlined in this report present an opportunity for Tianjin to not only create a future that is more economical, livable, and sustainable than the present, but also to become a leader in progressive planning and a model of responsible development for other cities in China.
At the same time, it is important to recognize that TOD is not a cure-all for the challenges that Tianjin faces. Other policies are also needed: in particular, pricing of vehicle ownership and use to reflect its full social and environmental costs, and policies to encourage resource conservation and the use of renewable energy sources. A holistic approach that addresses both the demand and supply of resources will be most effective at reducing congestion.