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April 28, 2009

China's Plans for Eco-cities lie abandoned

From Yale environment 360

China's eye-catching project of building “the world’s first eco-city” in Dongshan near Shanghai has seemed to be abandoned. The first phase of construction was planned to be finished by Shanghai 2010 World Expo; nevertheless, almost nothing has been built so far.

This article provided a detailed report on the reasons of its failure. Here are some of the key points.

- Financing. There have been disputes all along the planning of the project on who are financing the project and how to divide the benefits.

- The highly politicized nature of the project. The fact that the main backer of the project, Chen Liangyu, former Shanghai Communist Party chief, was sentenced 18 years in prison for bribery and abuse of power contributed to the halt of the project. The strong involvement of political forces has been a remarkable feature of almost all projects fully or partially financed by Chinese government.

- A lack of understanding of local needs. The planning process of the project did not do a good job in engaging the public, and therefore, although shining with catchy words like "green" and "ecology-friendly", the project did not really consider local people's de facto daily needs.

Another criticism about the project is its strong reliance on international big-name consulting firms like Mckinsey & Company and McDonough, who might not have sufficient understanding upon China's situations.

Yes, regarding China's urban planning and city construction, there is a lot of room for improvement. And the overseas engineering practice, like it or not, cannot directly be applied to China. Of course, there is a lot we can learn from developed countries. I believe that a combination of international engineering practice and proper understanding about China's status quo will be of enormous value.