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Global wisdom can craft solutions to urban woes

SWEEPING urbanization is the trend in China and many other developing countries. And with it comes enormous challenges that global wisdom can address.

Thus, the theme of the World Expo Shanghai 2010 is "Better City, Better Life."

To generate more ideas on healthy urban development, more than 200 officials, scholars and urban planners from cities worldwide converged on Shanghai last week.

Representatives from cities including Copenhagen, Milan, Venice and Zaragoza, Spain (an Expo city), discussed sustainable urban development, protection of historical heritage and new technology.

China's rapid urbanization is at the center of attention.

"One question is how China can proceed with its ambitious project of improving the living conditions of its population without exhausting the very resources needed to sustain a better life," said Danish architect Henrik Valeur in an interview with Shanghai Daily.

A tough and central question. According to China's Ministry of Construction, China adds around two billion square meters of new floor area each year - nearly half the world's total.

At this pace, Chinese cities and towns will absorb about 400 million new inhabitants in the next 20 years, according to the United Nations Development Program.

The headlong rush to build, expand and renew cities not only causes air and water pollution, crowding and traffic congestion, but also consumes huge amounts of energy and raw materials.

China, however, has the opportunity to plan it better and do better, so learning from other countries is important.

As creative director of UiD Shanghai, an award-winning urban planning consultancy, Valeur supervised a joint Chinese-Danish project to develop proposals for sustainable urban development in China.

"It is important to derive experience from the traditional Chinese city model. But based on this alone, there cannot be (needed) changes. Meanwhile, the modernist Western model can lead to sharp changes, but it can be unsustainable," said Valeur.

Thus Danish architects and Chinese experts from prestigious universities worked together. The results are showcased at the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center through October 12.

One example is the "City Bikes" program in Copenhagen, Denmark's capital. People can ride 2,000 public "City Bikes" for free, easing the problem of vehicle pollution. Once you find a "City Bike" in 110 sheds and insert a coin equivalent to 25 yuan (US$3.20) in the lock, you can take the bike. When you return it to a shed, you get your money back.

The collaboration also features better low-cost designs for houses, even just windows, to help save energy. It features clean, sustainable energy technology, such as solar and wind power.

Valeur also takes a look at Shanghai. While he is impressed by the skyline and highrises, he said nature is missing. "A huge contrast with other cities is that Shanghai lacks nature. There are buildings, people and traffic all the time."

"An ideal city should have diversities. It should be a mixture of the old and the new, work and leisure, and most of all, city and nature."

Although the city's public green space is increasing, the need to get close to nature is still a challenge.

Perhaps as Shanghai expands into satellite areas, planners will incorporate nature in the first place.


 

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