A New Approach in Urban Green Development for the New Era—Strategies for Building Park Cities

Li Xiong, Zhang Yunlu   2018-07-07 10:04:19

President Xi Jinping, on his inspection tour to the Tianfu New District in Chengdu shortly before 2018 Chinese Spring Festival, urged that "urban landscape architects should in their work highlight the unique features of park cities by taking the ecological values of cities into consideration". A fairly new notion in urban development, the concept of park cities reflects not just the goal set out by the country's brand-new philosophy on growth for all our urban development efforts, but also the higher expectations the people have over the eco- and inhabiting-environment of cities. Under this overall background, it has become a top priority on the agenda for landscape architects and city planners, both theorists and practitioners, to come up with a comprehensive set of science-based strategies that cater to the needs of both social progress and urban development in the new era.

1 The Strategic Significance of Park Cities

1.1 Park cities are vivid examples that showcase the 5 defining features identified by the Chinese Central Government for its development campaign, namely, the development should be innovative, coordinated, green, open and shared

Contrary to merely set up urban parks, the overriding goal of building park cities is to bring into existence harmonious and livable urban ambience that are conducive to balanced development in economic growth, social progress and environment improvement. Park cities, as implied by the name, should first of all be green, but at the same time should also be inclusive, innovation-friendly, and conveniently available for all to share, hence laying down a solid foundation for both ecological conservation and urban growth efforts. They demonstrate convincingly that the 5 fundamental development concepts raised by the Chinese Central Government can be put into urban building practices for sound results, making urban settings more livable, more sustainable, as well as alleviating problems that are often associated with cities. To put in short, building park cities should be taken as the central task in the country's endeavor to push its ecological progress and green growth further forward.

1.2 Park cities are the crystallization of peoplecentered principle for development

An innate feature of park cities is that they are "public" in nature, open to the whole community on equal basis. In line with the people-centered principle for development, all park city development initiatives should take it as their explicit goal to put in place an open, easily accessible and people-friendly park chain that cater to the urban dwellers' ever-increasing aspirations for better life and better environment. The presence of an appealing park chain in a city will not only contribute to its reputation as a much-crazed place for living, but also greatly boost its overall competitive edge against its rivaling peers.

1.3 Park cities are ideal settings where human beings and nature co-exist in harmony

The creation of eco- and people-friendly living environment, where human beings and nature co-exist peacefully and in mutually-complimentary manner, is regarded as the priority among priorities in park city development efforts. Through taking the fullest advantage of various natural landscapes, including but not limited to such examples as hills, waterbodies, cityscape, forests and etc., park cities typically recognize the crucial role that a sound ecological system plays in sustaining the longterm viability and health of a city. A park-like city makes up an ideal setting where city blends harmoniously, seamlessly into nature and enters dialogues with the latter.

1.4 Park cities symbolize the new fruits borne by the traditional Chinese wisdom concerning garden-making and city building

Traditional Chinese views concerning city building stressed on the needs for "perfect integration between the heaven and the people" and called for balanced attentions to the roles played respectively by man-made, natural and cultural elements in the process. Similarly, a golden rule in traditional Chinese gardening culture highlighted the needs for maintaining "a high conformity among the natural scene, the created scene and the conceived scene". The idea of park cities can be traced back to traditional Chinese approaches for gardenmaking and can be understood as new fruits yielded by this time-honored Chinese wisdom. Tapping into the functions of both natural and cultural elements in creating green urban settings that appeal powerfully to people's nostalgically longing for the nature and home, the ultimate goal is to bring into existence idyllic, exemplary urban environments that showcase the unique Chinese view of poetic living.

2 The Central Goals and Tasks Involved in Building Park Cities

2.1 Balance between the demands of both the environment and people's livelihood

Park cities, as represented by parks that serve the people, are welfare projects that aim to enhance people's sense of happiness as much as to improve urban ambience. They provide not only green spaces that people can share on equal basis, but also pleasant arenas where the people can live decent and dignified lives.

2.2 Seamless blending between the aesthetical and ecological values

Park cities take into consideration both the aesthetical values of urban landscapes and ecological services they provide. A fundamental guideline that must be consistently observed to in the process of building park cities is to respect nature and follow its innate laws, particularly through making full use of the ecological services that come with various landscape-composing elements, i.e., hills, waterbodies, woodlands, grasslands, croplands and etc.

2.3 Harmonious co-existence between nature and cities

Rather than focusing merely on setting up more parks within the limit of city scopes, we should in our park city development initiatives pay more attention to making sure that they blend harmoniously into the natural beauty of surrounding suburban settings. As a new model of urban expansion, park cities should adopt a holistic approach that views the green spaces in downtown, suburban areas as well as those in the surrounding villages as an integrated system.

2.4 Balance between global and local perspectives

Both global and local perspectives shall be needed in park city development projects. On the one hand, given the fact that park city is still a relatively new concept to us, it is especially necessary for us to draw on the international expertise and techniques in this field. On the other hand, the indigenous cultural and historic endowments of local places should be tapped into in our drive for green urban growth so as to create a special sense of place for each city.

3 Routes and Tactics for Building Park Cities

3.1 Optimizing urban layout through applying parkplanning principles to urban planning

Principles traditionally reserved for park-planning should be adopted in building park cities. Open green spaces commonly seen in parks, for instance, green grids, green corridors and vertical planting, should be widely used to lay down a green foundation, or green infrastructure, for the long-term development of cities. Measures should be taken to optimize the spatial layout and ecological system of urban areas, hence making it possible for cities to witness coordinated, mutuallycomplimentary progresses in both ecological and other services.

3.2 Conserving urban ecological resources by sticking to park-management standards

Efforts should be made in the process of building park cities to conserve eco-resources existing inside and out of the urban areas, making sure that cities merge smoothly into the natural scenery surrounding them. Greenland resources that are currently available in urban areas should be fully tapped into and connected, through water corridors, green corridors, roadside green belts and etc., to the natural landscape on their outskirts. This will not only facilitate the bio-energy/material circulation and exchanges between cities and nature, but also contribute greatly to improved urban eco-ambience and better lives for urban residents.

3.3 Upgrading people's living environment by following the same engineering standards for building parks

The core task in building park cities is to bring into existence settings favorable for quality living. Instead of focusing merely on the size or visual impacts of a given urban view, we should, in designing urban green space layouts, take into consideration whether they are convenient, safe, comfortable and pleasant to look at. Equity, accessibility and degrees of participation in the use of urban green spaces should be adopted as critical indicators in assessing the performance of a city in its development. It is the people, by whom and for whom, that eco-friendly urban settings are built and shared.

3.4 Encouraging green lifestyle through promoting park-management expertise

A green model of growth and living should be encouraged among all citizens through earnest efforts in building park cities. This is a prerequisite as well as the ultimate goal of implementing the new philosophy on social progresses. Initiatives should be taken to urge the entire society to transfer to a greener, healthier and more civilized low-carbon lifestyle.

Better urban ecological services and better urban biosphere are crucial composing elements in China's drive to secure its goals in ecological progresses and green growth. Park cities, a new model of urban growth that symbolizes our brand-new interpretation of sustainability in the new era, shall turn out to be the litmus test of our commitment to the philosophy of people-centered growth and to the belief that cities must serve the interests of the people. They mark a strategic transition from the previous creating-parks-incities approach to the present building-cities-in-parks approach, which in turn reflects our elevated aspiration for better urban eco- and living-environments. More importantly, they mark a major breakthrough in our understanding about the essence of national eco-friendly cities and garden cities.

As a creative endeavor, landscape designing makes up a critical component in China's on-going campaign to upgrade its ecological and living environment. As an academic discipline, landscape architecture is the trendsetter as well as test ground for new ideas/ approaches and cutting-edge technologies that will shape the future of park cities across the country. Under this historic background, all those engaged in this field, theorists or practitioners, are expected to take initiatives and respond swiftly by putting forward a rich stock of innovative, forward-looking, capacity-building-oriented theories, methods and technological solutions, paving the way for China to enter a grand new stage in park city development.

(Editor / Liu Xinya)


Li Xiong, male, born in Shanxi Province in 1964, Ph.D., professor, doctoral tutor and Vice-President of Beijing Forestry University (BJFU), research area: landscape architecture planning and design theory and practice, editorial committee member of Chinese Landscape Architecture (Beijing 100083) Zhang Yunlu, male, born in Chongqing in 1986, Ph.D., associate professor and Master tutor of School of Landscape Architecture in BJFU, research area: landscape architecture planning and design theory and practice, urban-rural green system planning and design (Beijing 100083)

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