From the Ground Up: Designing and Building a New City in China

Article excerpt

I'm going to start with a short video clip that the CBC recently made with me in China. They came this fall with Joyce Resin and Patty Moore from the program called Alive. Alive, as you know, is a television program that runs every week and basically deals with health, and they thought it would be interesting to talk about healthy cities.

In the north of China, a dream of a city - a healthy city - is coming true for well known Canadian architect, Bing Thom. He is in China with a team of developers, engineers and planners and with some well established credentials. Bing Thom has received the Order of Canada for his architectural designs around the world and he has a vision for this land. As far as healthy cities are concerned, China has not been very successful to date. In fact some of the world's worst examples of problem cities are found there. But this area is different. This beautiful coastline, only 300 kilometres east of Beijing, in the area known in ancient times as Manchuria, is on the outskirts of a city known as Dalian. The existing city of about 3 million people is cosmopolitan, dynamic, and bursting at the seams. This thoroughly modern metropolis prides itself on being beautiful, stylish, and worldly. The spark plug is the forward thinking "can do" mayor, Bo Xi Lai, (he's described as a young Jack Kennedy). This city is specially favoured by Beijing to be a "world class" example of China's face to the future. Growth here has been exceptional, even by fast paced Asian standards. Dalian is attracting billions of dollars in capital investment from around the world. And those investments are attracting millions of new citizens, Chinese and foreign. They all need somewhere to live. And that's not a simple task. And the mayor wants a city that's not just the biggest, but the best. "Of course, Dalian is a Chinese city. We still keep some Chinese traditions, but at the same time, I invite European designers to come here to create something special. "So the mayor set up a design competition to build a New Dalian. Architects from around the world competed. Bing Thom's team won the competition. In September, mayor Bo Xi Lai gave a green light to his dream for Dalian. And with that approval, construction work has begun on the world's newest "healthy" city. Bing Thom is confident that people will be living in New Dalian by the end of this century. From dream to reality in just three years from now.

In designing new Dalian, we've paid a lot of attention to history and culture and this was very surprising to the local planning officials. For example, my colleague Mr. Liu Dongyang found in UBC's Asian Studies Library a map of the Dalian area dating back to 1566. [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED] After we made it available to the city - and the mayor especially - it appeared in the local newspaper the very next day. Prior to that, when we asked questions about Dalian and its history, they thought the city was 100 years old because it was built by the Russians and the Japanese. They were very quick to pick up the information that we found. The farmers and fishermen all knew about the mythology of Big Black Mountain, one of the important local natural features, but the planning officials who were all from Shanghai and Beijing had never visited the site nor knew that there were temples up the mountain. This is despite the fact that some of them had lived in the area for seven years. So they began to think of planning a little differently through the experience of working together with us.

Figure 2 presents a map of the region, including Small Kiln Bay, Big Kiln Bay and the local topographical features. Existing on the site were a series of salt farms, [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 3 OMITTED] and we were supposed to create the new city by filling up these farms. They had also built a major highway through the salt farms, [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 4 OMITTED] planned by some highway engineers out of Beijing. The widest roadway we have in Vancouver is about 40 metres, property line to property line. …