BEING A PLANNER IN BEIJING. PART II: BEIJING AIRPORT CITY

Last week Alvaro told you about his project. Here is part two, I want to tell you all about what I have been up to here in Beijing. The problem is, it is top-secret. So top-secret that, sometimes, I don’t really know what I am working on.

Like Alvaro mentioned, the Chinese government is very protective of its information. Every employee at our office has to follow confidentiality protocols to access very basic information. Here is my theory about why this is – Recently, the Chinese government has begun to crack down on corruption. In 2015, the Communist Party claimed that they punished nearly 300,000 government employees. Land use deals between local governments and real estate developers are notorious for being kind of shady – so it could be that the secrecy protocols are in response to that.

As a result, it takes some effort to get information. And, as the foreign intern, that means I am sometimes kept out of the loop. So, this is what I think that I have been working on.

Beijing is building a massive new airport, Daxing International Airport, centered on a village called Nangzheuang in the Daxing area on the southern outskirts of the city – and I am working on the masterplan for the airport city. Beijing International Airport is one of the busiest in the world, and it has become way too crowded. The new airport is designed to handle 100 million passengers a year (it’ll be the largest terminal in the world), and will also serve nearby Tianjin and Haibei. The Zaha Hadid designed terminal is slated to be completed in 2019.

It took a while to wrap my brain around the concept of an airport city. Who would want to live near an airport? Planes are noisy. Isn’t it better to stick the airport at the edge of town, put an Ikea out there, and call it good? I had no idea that I had such old-fashioned ideas about airports.

Cities are betting on airports being crucial central transportation hubs in the future, driving urban and economic development. As cities have grown around ports, canals and rail infrastructure in the past, aerotropoli (airport + metropolis) are emerging as important regions for multinational businesses that economize on being close to airports. Airport cities are being developed around the world to attract manufacturers that need fast access to commercial aviation services, logistics companies, and frequent business travelers.

Several of these new airport cities are really fancy. New Songdo City, which is currently being built near Seoul’s Incheon airport, might be the peak of aerotropolitan aspirations. The 40 billion dollar development is being built on 600 ha of reclaimed land. It’s got everything that a multinational corporate business person could want – facsimiles of Central Park, Venitian Canals, and the Sydney Opera House; a very tall skyscraper; Golf; everything is high-tech and LEED certified – and it is all within a short commute from the airport. It is one of several fancy airport cities are popping up all over the world (there are others near Dubai, Amsterdam, Hong Kong, Dallas…) to attract the business of multi-national corporations. From what I’ve seen in the Daxing plans, Beijing has similar ambitions for its airport city (it looks pretty. I would live there).

The Zhengzhou International Airport Zone is the seminal Chinese airport city. It is located 19 miles from the center of Zhengzhou and is a major hub for electronics manufacturing (they produce 13% of the global stock of smartphones). Parts come into the airport and are sent to nearby factories where they are assembled into finished products, which are then put onto planes and shipped back out into the world. By 2025, the area plans to have a population of 2.6 million people and improved infrastructure linking central China to the global economy. Zhangzhou’s success has triggered a rush of airport development. Between 2011 and 2015, over 100 new airports were built in China.

I am still skeptical of the aerotropolis. Are we really going to fly more in the future? If the price of oil rises or governments implement carbon taxes in response to global warming – what will happen to the airport city? Companies could switch back to rail, container ships, or to some new environmentally friendly freight technology (apparently the cargo-zeppelin is making a comeback). Maybe business people will decide that they prefer the convenience of meeting in virtual reality, or some other crazy technology will come along to disrupt the travel and logistics industries. Betting big on airplanes just seems really risky. I am interested to see how these new cities fare – but I’m glad that there are no plans for a Portland airport city.

For the project, I have been researching airport cities and industrial development – two topics that I knew nothing about before coming to Beijing. I have learned a lot.

CADG Cup Update – The department soccer team lost in the quarterfinals against a team of architects. They were really good. I am looking forward to the celebratory dinner.

Daniel

Shenzhen: a city of cranes, construction, and ongoing conformations

Walking around Shenzhen construction and adaptations are on every street corner. It may not be shocking to most, as the city is the same age as Michael Phelps [just over 30 years old], so it is still establishing as a place to this day. However, the city has strict environmental provisions limiting its buildable land to only 7% of Shenzhen’s total land area (Zhou, 2014). City authorities have been greatly practicing the “out with the old and in with the new” across the city as it demolishes urban villages, tears down a 20 year old skyscrapers to replace it with a massive world-record-breaking buildings like Ping An Finance Centre at a towering 115 floors. Just down from Difu Hotel and UPDIS lies a superblock-sized, 50+ foot hole that I have been yelled at for attempting to photograph. It’s plans are unknown to me, but I imagine it will be a massive development towering over the 15-floor buildings adjacent.

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Ping An Finance Centre to open doors in late 2016.

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Mary Ann O’Donnell, anthropologist, curator, blogger, and urban village activist, stands in a demolished area in Langkou Urban Village.

It’s not to say all construction is of massive scale. Sometimes we see one or two people jack hammering away at the sidewalk tiles to replace them with mismatched cement. I always wonder how this coordination works for maintenance of things like this? Are people assigned an area and find random things to tear apart and return to the next day to repair? Is there a list of small projects to be repaired? How does this coordination fit within the larger picture?

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Cement truck forces pedestrians to the street in Futian District.

As it seems, construction vehicles are not regulated like other freight vehicles in the city. At any time of the day, a sidewalk could be blocked with a truck dumping tons of cement into the site, laying a brand new foundation. Additionally, many of these construction sites house workers which are usually migrants from rural communities within greater China. They live in temporary shipping container like housing that leaves a mark on the redevelopment when it is torn down. These migrants move from one job to the next just to make a living – they could be gone overnight.

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Sidewalk torn up to lay new lines underneath – not closed to pedestrians or cyclists though.

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On a Sunday, these workers do not see a day of rest.

Shenzhen Bay Super Headquarters is visible from our tandem bike ride along the water. From afar, you can see 20+ cranes in the skyline. Before redevelopment began, the area was home to only 30,000 residents. Whereas now, it is expected to employ and house nearly 10 million people and 500 enterprises. The plan calls for high-quality construction that can last up to a century, but many people in Shenzhen argue that developers take a cheaper approach to save time and money to be able to move on to the next project. As you can imagine, this will lead to a lower quality of building in need of redevelopment in one or two decades. How ‘sustainable’.

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Across Shenzhen Bay, you can see the many, many cranes across the new skyline of Shenzhen Bay Super Headquarters.

So my questions I still ponder are: When will construction be tapped out? At the quality of design being implemented, can we ever expect to see a significant decrease in construction? How does coordination of authorities, developers, maintenance, water and sewerage services compare to that of the United States [something we are most criticized, our coordination between departments and services]? And of course the affordability component – all of this construction and redevelopment is making Shenzhen well on its way to a very expensive place to live. How will people survive here? Will a young person like myself, making an entry-level professional salary of maybe 8,000CNY be able to afford 4,000-6000CNY a month for rent? Urban Villages are being demolished right and left – where do these people go? Especially if they do not have urban residency, are they forced back to rural China? Will Shenzhen continue to conform to modern gentrification and displacement hardships we are trying to recover and mitigate in the United States?

I am anxious for people’s input regarding the topic, so please comment with your suggestions, theories, opinions, questions, etc.

Olivia H

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Being a planner in Beijing. Part I: A new center for Beijing

Globally advanced energy-saving and environment protection technologies, standards, materials and craftsmanship must be extensively used to build a green city, a forest city, a spongy city and a smart city –Chinese President Xi Jinping.

To combat congestion, and all of its negative impacts, Beijing is planning to build a new sub-center in one of its neighboring districts. The basic idea is to move the city’s departments to the district by 2017. Yes, 2017 – next year. The sub-center is part of a larger effort to spatially and economically integrate Beijing with neighboring cities Tianjin and Hebei, creating a mega-region (the Jing-Jin-Ji Megaregion – population: 100 million people) that will promote competition, innovation, and Beijing’s status as a global city.

At CADG, we are working on the plan for the new sub-center that will be located in Tonghzou District. This new center will add to Beijing around 155 sq. km. of new development. It is difficult to imagine the magnitude of this project – so for reference, the whole Portland area is 376 sq. km. Currently, Tongzhou has around 1,200,000 people (1,300/sq.km). Making a plan of this scale has been quite of a challenge and my team and I have been developing principles and guidelines to create a vibrant economic region that is environmentally sustainable and a nice place for people to live.

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Ideas for the new sub-center

Our plan promotes the Government’s vision of a green, forest, spongy and smart city. In developing these concepts, we are borrowing ideas from other cultures and consolidating others from China’s urban planning heritage. From these four concepts, I’ve been very interested in learning about the spongy city. A spongy city is a city that is designed to naturally retain, clean and drain rain water. This concept was implemented in Jinhua City, where they created a water resilient park that adapts to the water currents and people flows. I borrowed these pictures from this website (http://www.landezine.com/index.php/2015/03/a-resilient-landscape-yanweizhou-park-in-jinhua-city-by-turenscape/) to show you how innovative this idea is. During the rainy season, vegetation and pedestrian infrastructure capture the water, protecting the city from floods. When the water level drops in the summer, seasonal public spaces emerge.

In China, accessing information is a challenge. Everything is confidential! It can be very difficult to get even a simple basemap that shows basic features of the landscape or the location of landmarks. It is hard for the Chinese members of my team and, nearly, impossible for me as the foreign intern. Data has always been confidential, but from what I’ve heard, during the last months, the government was more restrictive after they found out the information was being illegally delivered to provide advantages to certain companies to win bids.

After begging for weeks they have finally agreed to show me the maps and information I need to do my work. The only condition I have is that I have to do my work in a special room, “the chamber of secrets”, under the supervision of an info guard (one of my coworkers). Understandable.

This week, we went to Tonghzou to get a sense of the area. Although we are designing a completely new city, there are some sections that have already been defined, such as the location of the CBD and the political center, that we will incorporate into our plan. There is also an area where a new Universal Studios theme park is currently being constructed. This will be the “America zone”; however, they are not forgetting their own culture. One of our main proposals is to build the “Chinese zone” next to it, which will have buildings, parks, gardens and museums that promote and display China’s culture to the world

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Getting ready for the visit

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Construction phase in the CBD area

Another important component of our plan is preserving and improving some existing areas. Tonghzou has several important temples and iconic neighborhoods in Old Town and in the north, including an art village, that will be saved. We didn’t have enough time to see a lot of the art village during the site visit. But during our time there, we saw a lot of artists, sculptures, and paintings.

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A Buddhist temple to preserve

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It is a challenge to preserve temples like this once the construction phase in some areas has begun

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Pictures of Old Town

 

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Art village

Most of the people who are currently living in the CBD area are going to be displaced in the process of developing the new sub-center. They will either be reimbursed for their property or will be relocated to new government-provided housing in a different part of the city. From what I have heard, there are not many affordable housing projects near the CBD and the political center; however, the development of affordable housing is being planned in other areas of the sub-center, luckily close to transit stations.

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Affordable housing close to a transit station

Learning about how China’s top-down approach to urban planning works has been very interesting. Although the local government does not explicitly take into account the community’s input in the planning process, a lot of effort goes into making the city a better place to live for its residents. Young and passionate planners, excited about the potential to improve China’s cities and inspired by successful cities around the world, are putting a lot of effort into what is going to be the future of planning.

P.S. Our team made it to the semi-finals of the company football tournament!

by Álvaro Caviedes

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