China charts road map to green cities

An old courtyard demolished to make way for new real estate developments in Beijing earlier this month. Urbanisation in the past few decades has not only brought about significant social and economic changes in China, but also exacted a heavy toll on
An old courtyard demolished to make way for new real estate developments in Beijing earlier this month. Urbanisation in the past few decades has not only brought about significant social and economic changes in China, but also exacted a heavy toll on the country's environment.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Cities' growth will be tracked to prevent pollution, road congestion and safety hazards

BEIJING • China has unveiled a road map to make its cities more liveable, efficient and green.

Under the new guidelines, the growth of cities will be monitored closely to prevent problems such as pollution, severe traffic congestion and public safety hazards.

The directive was issued by the State Council, China's Cabinet, and released by state media on Sunday. It came two months after leaders met for the Central Urban Work Conference.

The last time Beijing held such a meeting was in 1978, when only 18 per cent of the population lived in towns and cities. That figure had increased to 55 per cent - or 750 million people - by the end of last year.

Urbanisation in the past few decades has not only brought about significant social and economic changes in China, but also exacted a heavy toll on the country's environment.

Just over the weekend, Beijing announced plans to develop a network of ventilation "corridors" to improve air quality. The Chinese capital has suffered three separate hazardous "airpocalypses" since late November.

  • CHANGES IN THE PIPELINE 

  • More green belts and urban parks that are free to the public 

    Greater protection of historical sites through regular repair and renovation 

    More investment in public transportation systems 

    Encourage use of prefabricated buildings to cut down construction waste 

    No more "weird" architecture, gated communities or illegal structures

While officials have blamed the bad air on the "winter heating season", a concentration of heavy industry in the region is a key contributing factor.

According to the new guidelines, cities will not be allowed to grow "beyond the means of their natural resources and environment".

Priority will be given to the protection of farmland, while land for construction use will be "properly allocated", said state media.

Mr Chen Zhenggao, minister of housing and urban-rural development, said Sunday's document was drafted based on careful research by his ministry and 29 other related departments.

Currently, Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing municipalities all have populations exceeding 20 million each. Cities like Tianjin, Guangzhou and Shenzhen each have more than 10 million.

The country plans to take around five years to inspect and clear up illegal construction.

To ease traffic jams in the cities, China is looking to expand public transport networks such as buses and railways.

By 2020, China aims to raise the penetration of public transport to 40 per cent in megacities, 30 per cent in big cities, and 20 per cent in medium-sized and small cities.

The new urban planning blueprint also calls for greater reliance on clean fuel to cut pollutant emissions in the cities.

It also calls for the development of smart cities through various Internet technologies, such as big data and cloud computing.

Under the new guidelines, the construction of "bizarre" and "odd-shaped" buildings that are devoid of character or cultural heritage will be forbidden. Instead, the directive calls for urban architecture that is "suitable, economic, green and pleasing to the eye".

Construction techniques that generate less waste and use fewer resources, such as the use of prefabricated buildings, will be encouraged, according to the document.

It projects that in 10 years' time, 30 per cent of new buildings will be prefabricated.

China has experienced a string of industrial accidents in recent years, the latest of which was caused by a landfill overflowing with construction waste and soil. The collapse of the landfill buried and damaged 33 buildings in an industrial park in Shenzhen on Dec 20, killing more than 50 people.

Officials will be using a variety of methods, including remote satellite sensing, to locate buildings that violate existing urban planning policies.

The country plans to take around five years to inspect and clear up illegal construction.

The document also calls for greater oversight from legislative bodies at the city level, and harsher punishments for anyone who contravenes the rules.

XINHUA, CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2016, with the headline 'China charts road map to green cities'. Print Edition | Subscribe