In this article from Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental studies, the author talk about why some of the plans for eco-cities in China, such as Dongtan near Shanghai have been stopped. Some quotes from the article:

Dongtan and other highly touted eco-cities across China were meant to be models of sustainable design for the future. Instead they’ve become models of bold visions that mostly stayed on the drawing boards — or collapsed from shoddy implementation. More often than not, these vaunted eco-cities have been designed by big-name foreign architectural and engineering firms who plunged into the projects with little understanding of Chinese politics, culture, and economics — and with little feel for the needs of local residents whom the utopian communities were designed to serve. “What I have always found amazing about these eco-towns is how seemingly easy it is for people to, first, tout these as a sign of China’s commitment to the environment and then, second, be surprised when things fail,” writes Richard Brubaker, founder and managing director of China Strategic Development Partners.

….Some of the problems are common to high-profile, visionary projects across China. Richard “Tad” Ferris, a Washington, D.C., lawyer for the firm Holland & Knight, explains that there exists in China, especially in Chinese law, an “aspirational culture” rather than a “compliance culture” — meaning that implementation and oversight of regulations and plans frequently fall short of reality. Anyone who has ever walked down the streets of Beijing, where sidewalks slabs with raised bumps for blind pedestrians suddenly veer into open manhole covers, knows that paths paved with progressive intentions can be strewn with peril. But there’s another side of the story. The most highly publicized eco-cities, including Dongtan and Huangbaiyu, drew upon expertise from some of the most vaunted international architectural and design firms….This international spotlight helps explain both the high hopes — and, in this case, great disappointment — connected with these eco-cities. As Wen tellingly notes, these particular projects were always much better known outside China than inside.

…In order for a green community to succeed, it not only has to limit carbon emissions but actually be livable — and adapted to local circumstances. Without extensive consultation with local people, it’s a challenge for foreign planners, even with the best of intentions, to understand what is required to transplant a farmer who grew up plowing fields into a city dweller…. Brubaker stresses the need for more community consultation and a “locally guided process.”

….Other, less-publicized approaches to building eco-cities are now underway in China that so far seem to be making more progress. A partnership between the Singapore government and the local government to build an eco-city near Tianjin looks more promising, in part because money is coming from both sources and the project is expected to earn not only global kudos but money, making a greater level of supervision and follow-through more likely.

On the whole, within China, there has lately been more enthusiasm for expanding green building codes than building new cities from scratch. “Enforceable green building codes, with the designers’ and planners’ willingness to follow them, is very important,” says Wen Bo. “Such grand eco-city plans themselves are not eco-friendly.”

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