As part of our Leaders Say Resilient Cities series, we spoke to our leaders about building liveable, sustainable cities. In this latest installment, Architectural Assistant Wilbur Long shares his thinking on creating more green infrastructure in our cities today.
In the past 8 years, the number of Chinese cities affected by floods has more than doubled. Severe and extreme droughts, too, have become more serious since the late 1990s. Since the flooding in 2012 in Beijing that killed 79 people, the “Sponge City” initiative has become an important term in the field of planning and urban design in China. This has been supported by a government plan for the 16 model sponge cities with 400 million RMB invested for each city.
What is the reason for the sharp increment of flooding starting from 2008? One major factor is the extensive paving and hard surface created from the large amount of development. During the 30 year rapid urbanisation, more than 3500 new towns have been developed and planned. This has accommodated to an estimate of 3.4 billion people, more than double of the current population. During 2011-2013 respectively, China used more cement than the United States did over the entire 20th century. Concrete is not permeable and gray infrastructure is generally designed to incorporate sufficient drainage functionality. The responsibility is therefore to invest more in resilient, green infrastructure.
At the city or district scale, the resilient design is usually considered in the perspective of municipal infrastructure. However, resilient design is not only constrained to this, it can also be a city park, a wetland, a gathering plaza, a courtyard, the roof of a building, etc. All of these components are important aspects to consider during our practice of urban planning and design.
Traditionally, Chinese cities are all equipped with natural systems of ponds, rivers, and wetlands, etc., which make the ancient city more permeable. Currently, in the process of our design thinking, we try to restitute these ‘resilient elements’ through the planning of continuous green infrastructure network across the whole site. Some examples we have used include a ‘Riverside Walk’ retail and leisure street; a ‘Park Avenue’ slow street with cycling lane and jogging path or a ‘Central Plaza’ of culture and retail elements with permeable pavement or landscape and water feature. We also introduce pocket parks or courtyards among the commercial developments; generating greater permeability yet also quiet spaces for visitors and residents. Apart from their resilient functions, these spaces bring significant value, specifically in placemaking and real estate.
By: Wilbur Long (Lead8 Architectural Assistant )