In China, the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City covers an area of 10 sq miles and is the largest of its kind in the world. This collaboration between the governments of Singapore and China began to take shape in 2008 and its first residents started moving in this month.
Far from the futuristic image that the term ‘eco-city’ usually evokes, the Singapore Tianjin Eco-City proposes an attainable model for how Chinese cities could solve the many environmental problems they face now and may develop in the future. Tianjin aims to be an environmentally friendly and resource-conserving place to live. Director of construction Wang Meng says: “Our eco-city is an experiment, but it is also practical. There are over 100 eco-cities in the world now and they are all different. If you look at the one in Abu Dhabi, they spent a huge amount of money and bought a lot of technology. It is very grand, but is it useful?”
Once a wasteland polluted by the nearby factories, the site hopes to house 350,000 people by the early-to-mid 2020s. So far, 60 families have moved in. There will be open green spaces throughout the city with existing wetlands and biodiversity preserved. Development will take place around these central areas. A light-rail transit system will be the main form of transportation, forming part of a green transport network and public housing will be subsidised, allowing people with varying incomes to live near each other.
The impressive master plan was developed jointly by China Academy of Urban Planning and Design, the Tianjin Urban Planning and Design Institute, and a Singapore planning team.
Unlike many eco-cities where the residents must live a strict sustainable lifestyle, people in Tianjin Eco-City are able to contribute in ways they feel comfortable with. The city becomes an experimental space for designers and planners. A major issue China faces is its transport system, where vehicles sit in a permanent gridlock. General Motors is using Tianjin to find out if electrical driverless systems can work well within China’s traffic system.
A technology that cleans industrial reservoirs full of heavy metals has been patented, and will soon be used in other parts of the country. This could prove to be the solution to China’s water problem, where 70% of rivers are too polluted to provide drinking water.
Other projects being tested in the city include rubbish bins from Sweden that empty themselves and energy lighting systems from Philips. Government buildings use the latest in sustainable technology, from rainwater collection and solar energy to window shutters that move with the light. Wang has high hopes for the future of the city; he wants to change the way people perceive green cities.