At a construction site in northern China, a billboard boasts of a “liveable city” where residents can drink tap water, travel on clean energy public transport and enjoy acres of parkland.
For now, the ambitious “eco-city,” covering 30km2 of non-arable salt pans and former fishing villages, has more cranes than wind turbines and will not be finished for at least another decade.
However, its developers hope the settlement near the port city of Tianjin will serve as an ultra-efficient alternative to ill-planned and heavily polluting mega-cities not only elsewhere in the country, but around the world.
“We hope to influence our neighbors,” said Goh Chye Boon, chief executive of Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City Investment & Development Co. “With the right ingredients, with the right eco mindset, I think together we can change the environment.”
The governments of China and Singapore have combined their expertise and finances to develop the future city, which has a planned population of 350,000 and includes schools, medical facilities and business districts.
Foreign companies such as Japan’s Hitachi and Dutch electronics giant Philips will provide green technology for the development, where buildings will be insulated and have double-glazed windows to increase energy efficiency.
Nearly two-thirds of household waste will be recycled and 20 percent of the city’s power will come from renewable energy sources such as wind and solar — with the rest coming from other sources such as highly polluting coal.
Treated sewage will be channeled into a lake which will supplement water supplies for local communities.
“Eco-cities are needed because China is facing a huge challenge of pollution,” said Hiroaki Suzuki, a top specialist in the Finance, Economic and Urban Department at the World Bank, which is assisting on the project.
“China’s serious pollution problems do not mean that it cannot develop an eco-city,” he said.
Top leaders in Beijing also hope the project will serve as a model for a long-term solution to the country’s ballooning urban population, which is putting enormous pressure on already strained water and energy resources.
China is undergoing an unprecedented urbanization process as hundreds of millions of people have headed to fast-growing metropolitan areas since the nation’s economy embarked on a fast-paced growth track more than 30 years ago.
To handle the massive influx of people, China may need to invest up to US$3.6 trillion in urban infrastructure by 2020, state media said last month, citing a report by the state think-tank China Development Research Foundation.
Greenpeace supports the development of “eco-cities” as a way to handle urban overcrowding, which it says could prevent China from curbing its world-leading carbon emissions and meeting its ambitious energy targets.
“It’s a really good idea because that is where change has to happen,” said Yang Ailun, climate and energy campaign manager for the environmental watchdog in China.
However, Yang cautioned it was very difficult for Beijing to develop truly low-carbon cities when there was no clear definition of the term, and given that the country was still developing.
China has already broken ground on a separate ecologically friendly settlement that has yet to been finished.
In 2005, then-British prime minister Tony Blair and Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) agreed the two countries could collaborate on building the world’s first so-called “eco-city” Dongtan, near Shanghai.