Cities built-to-spec

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Cities built-to-spec

Last week The Guardian‘s Jonathan Kaiman wrote an article on Tianjin Eco-city; a new-build, environmentally friendly, rural city in China and just one of hundreds planned by the Chinese authorities. The construction of “new town” purpose-built cities is not a new concept and one that governments around the world continue to use in an effort to tackle the problem of increasing populations. From Songdo in South Korea, to Masdar City in the UAE, and even through to the new CBD in Abu Dhabi – Al Maryah Island (including our client Gulf Related‘s Sowwah Central) – entirely new areas with their own distinct infrastructures being built. The purpose behind each project varies, from the simple introduction of new homes and services to the promotion of new technologies and expansion of a nation’s economic power.

Last year, architects in the Netherlands went so far as to suggest that we build our very own versions of an ‘above-water’ Atlantis, in order to combat rising sea levels.

This is what makes a city like Tianjin so intriguing – the reasons behind its construction aren’t crystal clear. The scheme, as is the case with other such developments in the region, are marketed to the populous as ‘eco-cities’. In a country where smog is a very real problem, this would seem like a sure-fire way of garnering some support. However, recently those behind the project have highlighted its practical benefits, as opposed to its claim to be ‘green’. As Malcolm Moore at The Telegraph points out, Tianjin remains ‘shrouded in smog and depressingly grey’, but that it is now seen as simply an answer to over population in China’s other metropolises. It will also act as a testing site for other new initiatives, such as low energy lighting systems and electric driverless cars, in a bid to solve two other enormous problems in China – astronomic energy bills and perpetual gridlock.

These eco-cities involve a range of international consultants (the China-Britain Business Council launched the UK-China Eco-cities & Green Building Group in 2010, for example) and has been widely publicised for years. But, in spite of the aforementioned practical advantages, the marketing of these developments remains confused. While recent interviews with the western press push commitments to tackling China’s infrastructure problems, Asian focused outlets report that they are still claiming to be green projects, although many suspect more corporate financial motives are at work.

As the UK government announces plans to build three new garden cities in order to combat the housing crisis, we can see that controversy surrounding new urban areas is not limited to China’s borders – on Monday Rowena Mason reported that Nick Boles MP has said that affordable housing will not be a requirement of these new cities. An interesting stipulation given the nature of the housing crisis.

No matter what controversies and mixed messages surround these new cities, they will continue to be pushed by governments and ruling bodies around the world. It will be interesting to see which approach is the most successful new city concept in the coming years – watch this space!

Ed Lowcock, Senior Account Executive

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