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In China, a Radical Proposal to Turn an Old City Green

Woods Bagot, HOK, and CW Group are about to turn Langfang, an old Chinese farming town, into a sort of Portland of the East.

In China, a Radical Proposal to Turn an Old City Green

In China, where new cities spring up practically overnight, a group of architects is floating a radical proposal: develop a city that’s already there, and do it as gently as possible.

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The Langfang Eco-Smart City Master Plan will convert Langfang, an old aggie town halfway between Beijing and the Tianjin mega-region, into a sort of Portland of the East. It’ll pair high-density living with staples of more small-scale, human-centered cities: a new centrally located transportation hub, restored wetlands, and a “cultural corridor” replete with low-slung housing and a massive green space that’ll make Central Park look like a kiddie playground. The goal here, per the press release, is to set forth “a strategy for transforming Langfang into a model of ecological urban redevelopment, calling attention to the role of existing cities in forging a more sustainable global future.” The plan was co-developed by Woods Bagot, HOK, and CW Group. It was honored by the Hong Kong chapter of the American Institute of Architects in urban design recently.

[The plan includes lots of green space surrounding the new transportation hub]

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Now, before we go and give Woods Bagot and company the good Samaritan award, consider this: It would’ve been stupid not to build on the existing urban fabric. Langfang has blossomed from a farming center of 50,000 in the mid-century to a full-blown city of 800,000 (small by Chinese standards, but certainly nothing to sneeze at).

And it’s about to get bigger. The Beijing-Shanghai high-speed rail line includes a stop in Langfang, and once the line’s complete, the city will see “additional growth opportunities” — planner speak for, “This place is about to blow the $%&@ up.” Think of all the American cities that were essentially created by the railroad. With such economic prospects on the horizon, it’d be as foolish to ignore Langfang as it would be to erect a city on Neptune.

This plan in particular is awfully ambitious. Instead of throwing up highrises willy nilly (the default in much of China) they’re trying to make the city a nice place to live. The basic idea is to develop a high-density area around the new rail station in the city center, while creating a stretch of lower-density housing to the north — the Brooklyn to Langfang’s Manhattan. Meanwhile, they’ll preserve surrounding agricultural land, so residents aren’t just staring at concrete all day.

It sounds like a lot of obvious stuff, but in China — which has to build cities at breakneck speed to accommodate a ballooning population — it’s not. Ultimately, though, Langfang will be better off: The more livable the city, the more people it’ll attract, the richer its economy.

[Images courtesy of Woods Bagot]

About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.

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