By Tina Adams
I came across a quote from the company in charge of building Tianjin Eco-City that summarizes why I feel the Eco-City is more significant and interesting than Masdar City in Abu Dhabi or PlanIT Valley in Portugal
“We want to avoid the idea that [Tianjin Eco-City] is a haven for rich people or second-homers from Beijing…Being green isn’t a luxury, it’s an affordable necessity. This city should be a practical, replicable, scalable model for elsewhere in China and the world.”
I wholeheartedly agree that the overarching mission of a sustainable city should be to be socially inclusive, practical, replicable, and scalable. Without these characteristics I find it hard to classify a city as truly sustainable. I want to dive deeper into what we can learn from Tianjin Eco-city’s plan to meet these four criteria.
One fifth of the housing in the Eco-City will be subsidized for low-wage workers and their families. Also, the city is built in modular 400m by 400m “Eco-Cells” that contain residential, commercial, educational, and free recreational areas. Thus, the goal is for all residents to have easy and equal access to the services and amenities they need.
The fact that the Eco-city is near Beijing and Tianjin means that it will have a much easier time attracting both people and businesses it needs to grow. The Eco-city is heavily focused on work and residential integration, with a goal that least 50% of the employable residents are working in the city by this year. To get employers to the city, the Chinese and Singaporean governments offer a range of financial tools, grants and tax incentives. For example, Singapore is committing S$9.5 million over the next five years to assist eligible Singapore companies interested in investing in the city.
Also, Tianjin Eco-City doesn’t restrict people to a certain type of transportation, but rather focuses on making public transportation far more convenient. A tram, cycling, and walking routes run through the center of the entire city, so that they are accessible and useful from any location. The public transport network will be separated from the motor vehicle transport network to avoid conflicts between the two.
The Eco-city was not build in a prime location that is difficult to find elsewhere in the world. Rather, the site chosen for the project was an industrial dumping ground and barren salt flats. Not only does the city location avoid destroying ecologically important areas, it also shows that an Eco-city can be built on all types of land. One major caveat is that the pollution coming from nearby Tianjin and Beijing has made it impossible for the Eco-city to reach its air quality targets.
With the Eco-Cell concept, the city also has a modular and scalable layout. Four self-sufficient Eco-cells make an Eco-neighborhood. Several Eco-neighborhoods form an Eco-district. This allows the city to be expanded cell by cell as more money, businesses, and people flow in. Moreover, pre-built modular office spaces and factories provide flexibility to companies seeking “fast start-up solutions.”