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/ 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.


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 ( 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


Getting ready for the visit



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.


A Buddhist temple to preserve


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



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.


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


One thought on “Being a planner in Beijing. Part I: A new center for Beijing

  1. Yiping says:

    Glad to know that you are participating in this important project! I heard it is very competitive process… I am wondering whether your PSU VPN can allow you to access some better information? open street maps, or google earth?


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