Sunday, September 6, 2009

China's Dongtan: the eco-city that never was

From Greenie Watch:

China’s big, impractical eco-city was all greenwash but it fooled lots of people for a long time

It was nice while it lasted, but now, it seems, the dream is over. The long-awaited, much-feted eco-city of Dongtan – described by environmental campaigner, Herbert Girardet as ‘the world’s first eco-city’ – has bitten the dust. After four years of presentations, proposals and puff, the universal praise has proven to be a little premature.


Admittedly, a multi-million dollar bridge from the island to Shanghai is nearing completion, which ought to open up the Dongtan region for development, but fingers are being pointed at a range of suspects for the collapse of the overall project: the corruption of local politicians, the use of challenging technologies, lapsed planning permissions, or the greed of major international consultancies that were riding in on the Chinese urban goldrush with little regard for practical niceties.

There are undoubtedly elements of truth in all of these claims, but why did no one spot that nothing was happening? The simple fact is that nobody ever questioned the hype.


Now, it seems that the process is all over, environmental commentators are having to save face without sounding too contrite. After all, they were simply taken in, weren’t they? Journalist Fred Pearce sums up the situation: ‘We all wasted our time; burned carbon flying to Shanghai to relay a false prospectus to the world. If I sound bitter, I am. This time, I was a personal victim of greenwash.’

It wasn’t his fault, of course. After all, given that this project was promoted for its environmental credentials, why on earth would a journalist of Pearce’s standing ever have questioned anything? His role was simply to visit and throw garlands.


Dongtan, the city that was intended to be the ‘model for how to build sustainable cities worldwide’ should still provide a lesson for us all. Blindly praising its environmental credentials without recognising its squat, low-rise, parochial, carbon-fetishising, architecturally unappealing, unworkable urban eco-clichés, is a recipe for future disasters.


Posted via email from Garth's posterous

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