Eight years ago, this was an "ecological restricted zone" in Bohai Bay where one-third of the land was saline wasteland, one-third was an abandoned salt field and one-third, polluted puddles.
Today, eight years later, it is like a painting, where rare migratory birds can be seen flying over the wind, hunting for fish and shrimp on a lake that has become clear and clean through ecosystem management, with rows of reeds swaying in the wind.
This is the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city, jointly developed by the governments of China and Singapore, and the first integrated demonstration zone of green development in China. Dr Yoon Jong Soo, head of the United Nations Office for Sustainable Development, said it was "a pioneer in eco-city construction", and Professor Phillip Jones, chairman of Wales' Low Carbon Research Institute, praised it as "a successful example of the integration of man-made and natural environments".
On May 14, 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city and expressed his hopes for it - for the eco-city to give consideration to both the advanced, high-end area as well as the ability to be replicable and scalable. He hoped for the project to give a convincing answer in areas like people-to-people activities, people-to-economic activities, and the harmonious coexistence between people and the environment, and to provide a model for the building of a resource-saving and environmentally friendly society.
In more than three years, in accordance with Mr Xi's requests, the parties involved in the eco-city have worked together and strived to develop it into an ecological home where man and nature live together in harmony, and several plans and ideas raised at the outset have become a reality gradually.
WIDE GREEN BELT
The reporters' first impression on entering the eco-city after travelling from Huanghai Road in the Tianjin Development Area to the Rainbow Bridge was that it was a "wide green belt". Even though it was winter, there was still high vegetation coverage, with the National Animation Industry Park, community centres, schools, hospitals and housing estates decked in green, highlighting the harmonious coexistence between man and nature.
The eco-city had earlier put forward the vision of developing a "sponge city" and put it into practice. The meteorological departments of Beijing and Tianjin issued an orange warning for rainstorms on July 20 last year. The entire eco-city did not enter the "sea" mode despite the downpours, and the roads were dry when the rain stopped, as the rain had almost no impact on the traffic and lives of the residents.
Mr Wang Meng, a surveyor with the eco-city's construction bureau, told reporters that with water saving at the core, the eco-city set up a water usage system of "sewage treatment, rainwater collection, water recycling and desalination", especially the full collection of rainwater, with utilisation up to 100 per cent.
Moreover, the rainwater collection wells on the roads and other municipal pipe network facilities are installed on both sides of the green belt, fundamentally avoiding the phenomenon of road maintenance "zippers" and incidents of "falling into the wells". At present, more than 80km of such "ecological" roads in the area have been completed.
How do the residents recycle the household waste? Mr Wei Wei, the deputy head of the eco-city's urban management and law enforcement team, said that according to the ecological index system, the eco-city put forward the targets of 0.8kg of daily garbage production per capita, a garbage recycling rate of not less than 60 per cent and a toxic-free treatment rate of 100 per cent.
"This is also a very high standard in developed countries in the West," he said.
To this end, the eco-city promotes waste reduction from the source.
For example, the cabbages sold in the supermarkets are clean vegetables with the soil and rotten leaves removed, so as to reduce the generation of garbage. At the same time, residents are encouraged to first separate the rubbish at home, sorting them broadly into recyclables, kitchen waste and other categories. Recyclable garbage can be placed at the district's smart garbage collection platform, and the residents can earn points that can be used to redeem groceries at shops in the community. The kitchen waste can be made into green base fertiliser after microbial decomposition, while other types of garbage will be sent for incineration.
"You will not see garbage trucks in the eco-city in future," Mr Wei said.
He said eight housing estates and four public projects have installed the garbage pneumatic system, as garbage discarded by residents go directly through the underground garbage pneumatic system, from the pipeline directly into the pneumatic refuse collection point. The pneumatic refuse collection station has also changed people's impression of the garbage collection station, as it showcases the integration of garbage segregation, resource utilisation, pneumatic refuse transportation and sanitation technology.
Taking on the mission as China's first integrated demonstration zone for green development, the eco-city has also extended the concept of green development to the areas of government administration and economic development, allowing the city-industry integration to be seen, touched and felt here.
In overcoming the long process of administrative approval, the eco-city innovatively launched a system that used the "Internet Plus" concept to redefine administrative approval. The reporters discovered, after using the system, that it was like sending e-mails, in remotely submitting the documents for approval; like checking on the logistical process, in viewing the review progress directly on mobile phones; and like the courier service, when receiving the results of the approval.
This system drew lessons from Singapore's experience and incorporated the actual situation in the eco-city in creating a virtual online approval hall. Its core lies in providing convenience, while at the same time ensuring the separation of approval and supervision, where the processes of accepting the application, reviewing it and concluding it are independent of one another.
The eco-city has to make trade-offs in wooing investments while developing the green industry, as projects with high energy consumption or high pollution are rejected. Faced with the relative shortage of green industries and enterprises in China, the eco-city seeks another route in setting up the National Animation Industry Park and creating the eco-city's cultural industrial brand.
Mr Cao Sheng, deputy director of the eco-city's commerce bureau, said industry leaders such as Huayi Brothers, Bona Film, Enlight Media and Jumei have gathered in the district. China's first cartoonist village and largest film and television animation rendering base are also located here.
Mr Cao said that presently, the eco-city has established five leading industries - cultural innovation, Internet plus high-tech, elite packages, cold chain logistics and coastal tourism. It is focusing on developing cultural innovation and Internet plus high-tech as the two pillar industries.
By the end of October last year, there were more than 4,200 registered enterprises in the eco-city, with registered capital close to 200 billion yuan (S$41.4 billion). In 2015, the total taxes paid by the industries and enterprises (excluding the real estate enterprises) exceeded more than 2.1 billion yuan, providing strong support for sustainable development.
BLUEPRINT FOR SMART GRID
As the location of China's first integrated smart-grid demonstration zone, the eco-city has not forgotten Mr Xi's words on smart-grid construction in the last three years.
From renewable energy grid and public transport on new energy to smart homes and distributed power generation, the blueprint for the construction of the smart grid in the eco-city is being realised step by step.
"President Xi was most interested in the smart homes and green development when he visited the integrated smart-grid demonstration service centre," said Mr Qin Lijie, who was the guide during Mr Xi's visit and is currently the deputy director of the Eco-City Power Supply Office of the State Grid Tianjin Binhai Power Supply.
From switching on the air-conditioner with the mobile phone while you are on the way home from work to drawing the curtains with a remote control when you wake up in the morning - the reporters saw that the smart homes which used to be a concept have become a reality in the Hongshuwan district in the eco-city.
The smart grid not only enables smart home appliances to be remotely controlled in real time, but also allows users to monitor their electricity usage at home through their mobile phones at any time, and thus make reasonable arrangements for the usage of the electrical appliances and achieve "smart use of electricity". With the popularity of smart grids, these smart homes are making their way into more households and a "smart life" is no longer a distant dream.
It is noteworthy that the clean energy sources in the eco-city remain stable. At the side of the road in Central Avenue in the eco-city, the reporters saw a row of solar panels stretching several kilometres and looking quite spectacular. This was the eco-city's attempt to achieve clean energy. Currently, the eco-city's public buildings and hotels are mostly installed with the photovoltaic system and ground-source heat pump system. All newly built homes have adopted the solar water-heating system.
The eco-city has also taken advantage of coastal wind energy by installing five wind turbines at the mouth of the Ji Canal. Some 60 per cent of the street lamps in the district use wind-solar hybrid LED lights.
With the eco-city being a landmark demonstration project, the construction of its clean energy system is not closed to others and it has been replicated in other districts in Tianjin.
Mr Yu Jiancheng, deputy director of the IT department at the State Grid Tianjin Power Supply, said that based on the integrated demonstration project of the smart grid which has been in operation, it is accelerating the development of a series of innovative technologies and model demonstrations such as the distributed power plug-and-play and convenient electric vehicle charging services, which form a real energy network. In the future, after the demonstration and promotion in Tianjin, these will ultimately be expanded to the rest of China and contribute to the building of a highly efficient, smart, inter-connected and stable energy system.
This is an excerpt of an article that first appeared in Outlook Weekly, a Chinese-language magazine run by China's Xinhua news agency. Translated by Lim Ruey Yan.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 07, 2017, with the headline 'Eco-land living up to its mission'. Print Edition | Subscribe
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