[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Thursday, 5 July 2007, 22:40 GMT 23:40 UK
China's eco-city faces growth challenge
By Steve Schifferes
Globalisation reporter, BBC News, Chongming Island, China

Modern eco-housing on Chongming - at a price
Modern eco-housing on Chongming - at a price

China's plans to build an "eco-city" of 500,000 people on a huge island in the Yangtze Delta have been widely heralded. But local planners seem to have different priorities from the world leaders who have flocked to see the project.

The sleepy island of Chongming lies across the Yangtze Delta from the dynamic metropolis of Shanghai, the centre of China's global ambitions.

It takes an hour's ride on a slow ferry across the river - with inland cargo boats slipping by in the fog - to reach the island, which is criss-crossed with canals and fields where peasant agriculture still takes place.

ferries across the Yangtze travel to Chongming Island
Ferries travel slowly across the Yangtze to Chongming Island

Chongming is the size of Manhattan, and its wetlands form one of the most important migratory bird sanctuaries in China, known as Dongtan.

Currently this section of the island is deserted, except for a few visitors who make their way to the isolated nature reserve.

Demonstration city

It is here that Shanghai plans to build a demonstration eco-city which will ultimately house 500,000 people, designed by the UK engineering consultancy firm Arup.

Peter Held, Arup
Peter Held's enthusiasm for the Dongtan project is infectious

Peter Head, Arup's project director, says that the project can be a model for the world.

"Significant global climate change, environmental issues, water shortages and the need for the use of cleaner and renewable energy demand the creation of a new approach to urban development," he explained in his office in Shanghai.

The eco-city, to be linked to the mainland by an 18-mile long bridge-tunnel which also spans two smaller islands, will initially house between 20,000 and 50,000 people.

Artist's impression of the Chinese city Dongtan
The new eco-city will feature a marina

Conventional cars will be banned in the city centre, while the plans include capturing and purifying water, waste management recycling, reducing landfills that damage the environment, and creating combined heat and power systems.

Mr Head says he has been impressed by the speed and determination of the Chinese authorities, who moved at "three times the speed" of Western planning departments.

China's centralised planning system has been behind the extraordinary transformation of Shanghai in the last decade into a Western-style metropolis.

Development boom

Dongtan is just one of nine new towns planned by the city of Shanghai to relieve overcrowding in a city of more than 20 million people.

The Dongtan wetlands are an important habitat for birds
The Dongtan wetlands are currently an important habitat for birds

Shanghai also plans to relocate much of its shipbuilding industry - the largest in China - on one of these islands, making space for the WorldExpo 2010 site, while providing employment for many of the island's residents.

And it plans to rehouse many of the 650,000 inhabitants of the island in modern housing, to make room for eco-tourism and eco-farming.

But some observers, such as Professor Chen of Tongji University, think that the local planners are more concerned with raising the income and standard of living of the region than ensuring ecological development.

They say that the new ecologically-sound housing developments may not be affordable by locals and could become suburban housing for the rich.

Living standards are still low on Chongming Island
Living standards are still low on Chongming Island

Already many have been purchased by overseas Chinese.

And they are concerned that the development of shipyards, power plants and bridge- tunnel systems may stimulate rather than retard the over-development of the region.

Certainly in a tour of the project run by Shanghai's planners, growth and expansion of this quiet backwater seemed to be the central theme.

Final obstacle

But ultimately, the development of Dongtan Eco-city is dependent not on ecology but politics.

After the rapid development of the master plan for the city, final authorisation of the funds for the project has stalled.

Arup's Peter Head says the problem is that all big projects are now awaiting approval from the new boss of Shanghai, who was only appointed in March, following the sacking of the former Shanghai Chinese communist party chief in October on corruption charges.

With China's high-profile commitment to showing it is serious about tackling environmental issues, it would be surprising if the project did not go through.

But its contribution to global warming is likely to remain controversial.

This is part of a series on how globalisation is changing China's largest city, Shanghai. Further articles will explore the issue of migrant labour and the future economic development of the region.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific