FOW015 – Urban China [EN]

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  • Urban planning, urban design, “urbanism” (French concept), what does it mean in China, what does it mean in Europe?
  • the pace and the nature of urbanisation in China: 60% of the population will live in cities by 2020
  • the Hukou system
  • challenges vs. opportunities
  • the fringes: informal settlements in China and India, organic development
  • Shimokitazawa neighborhood in Tokyo, a successful model for the development of informal settlement areas?
  • comparison between Shivaji Nagar in Mumbai and Dongxiaokou in Beijing
  • the state centered approach of Chinese urban planning + relatively new emergence of urban design, see also: Taiwan
  • Famous last words: impact of “No weird architecture” principle of Xi Jinping on future urban innovation, can/should politicians define what is “weird” ?
  • Recommendation: Sinapolis (mainly French, more English content on urbanisation in China to come)

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3 Kommentare

  1. David

    Thanks for this episode!
    You should get more comments, I can’t believe that “I am” the only listener to this podcast. ;-)
    (And I don’t have problems with english podcasts, maybe it teaches me a bit more english, and without an evil slang (like Texas :D ) I can follow it easily.

    No weird achitecture… what about this CCTV building? Bulldozer? :D

  2. Because David is totally right last but not least I managed it to write a comment ;)
    This episode was a nice overview so thanks for that. Usually that’s not a topic one hears very much about and the only other podcast I ever heard about something like that was this Econtalk episode ( about a private city. Does anything like this exits in China?
    In case China wants to invest more into solar energy and less into fossil fuels:
    Is it possible/convenient to built the plants close to the cities or rather in the west where nobody lives?
    And last question: Since Beijing is pretty old, how much of “the old Beijing” can you still see today?

    Regarding the english podcast in general: Amusingly (or sadly) it was easier to follow you than some english podcasts with native speakers because they don’t seem to care much about audio quality.

    • Julien

      Thank you for your comment! I should take more time to dive in the concept of the private city, as I must admit I’ve actually never really heard it before.
      As for solar energy and other green energies in general (excluding hydroelectric from the concept), China is investing massively in it at the moment. According to the latest Greenpeace report, I think, China is becoming the country with the largest and fastest reduction of its CO2 emmissions in history. What I believe is that Chima should have a dual approach. At the same time it should invest in massive energy plants, especially in areas with more sun resources like the west of China you mentionned, but also in cities. Most of its energy-use reduction is going to happen in cities anyways, by improving building quality, isolation and energy networks. Yet I think that China is pretty much developping a model of urban development integrating as much as possible solar panels and other green energies in new neighborhoods, and at the building level as well. The solar panel and the wind turbine have now become symbols of “modern development”. As an example, when traveling in southern Chinese province of Yunnan, in Tibetan inhabited regions, I realized that all the symbols of economic development brought by the central Chinese government were public amenities and urban facilities relying on green energy, such as street lamps powered by solar panels and topped by wind turbines. (Funny shape to see a mini wind turbine for each street lamp), or solar powered water heating systems. Green energy has therefore been associated, at local scale, with urban development and urbanisation in China. I don’t know if it is enough, but the political will is there. I think this is not really the case in India, where development needs are stronger and therefore green energy is still seen as a unnafordable luxury.

      As for the question about how much of the “old Beijing” we can still see today, I would tend to say : a lot. It depends if you mean authentic old buildings or intangible legacies of the old Beijing impacting the modern city layout. The old city of Beijing was so extensive in 1949, when the communists took power, that it didn’t completely disappear under the ideological bulldozer of communist urban planning tradition. If I should give a number I would say that around 30% of the old buildings remain, in forms of renovated (or not) old neighborhoods, cut by new buildings, new streets. Yet the old street grid remains in some old areas, which are slowly disappearing I must admit. Most importantly,the city of Beijing was organized on an historical north south axis, on which the main buildings were built. These historical buildings, inclusing the forbidden city, were preserved, which protected the axis. The interesting thing is that the communist reshaping of the city, while destroying some valuable parts of the old city, somehow reinforced this historical axis. Indeed, the Tian’anmen square and the mausoleum of Mao Zedong are placed on the axis, south of the forbidden city, thus inscribing the communist heritage in the thousand years old axis. More recently, the Olympic complex, representing the glory and emergence of the new china, was placed on the axis as well, extending it to the North. Therefore, this axis, typical of the old imperial capital still shapes the city today, and is candidate to be classified as UNESCO world heritage. Another example of the old Beijing being physically destroyed but yet still defining to today’s urban layout are the city walls. Beijing was among the largest Ming dynasty-era walled city in 1949, yet, in order to develop and modernize the city, the second ring road and the metro line 2 were built on it in the 1970’s, thus destroying the wall and its gates, who were valuable architectural jewels. They are now remembered as metro station names on the line 2, whose circular outline follows the former walls. Therefore, not only are the destroyed Walls still definining the contemporary urban communication network, but they also gave the direction of the development of Beijing in concentric shape, framed by ring roads extending to the 6th one, and centered around the old town.
      You can therefore see that while the old Beijing has suffered and is suffering from destruction for the sake of medernization, the strict urban layout of the imperial capital and centuries of classical Chinese urban planning still strongly impacts the city development.
      I hope I answered your question at least partially, please feel free to ask more about it if I was unclear or if you want to add/oppose some of my points. :)

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