A tragedy of the commons: China’s Yangtze River

An observation essay from The Economist’s Intelligence Unit focus’s attention on how rapid industrialization, together with equally rapid  urbanization, conflict with the goals of “green hydro-based power” and  ambitious bureaucrats, all result in a mighty “muddle” – is this another case of planning’s inability to deal with the complexity of large scale natural and cultural systems ? I  wonder how African countries politicians will cope with planned Chinese funded and built hydropower projects if the Chinese are unable to manage their own large scale systems? See World’s largest hydroelectric plant could finally rise in Africa | SmartPlanet

China’s longest river, the Yangtze, is becoming extremely busy as it plays a core role in government efforts to develop the country’s interior. As industry moves west, raw materials to feed it are being shipped via the waterway, which runs between major ports in the east and provinces further inland. At the same time, the river is being drawn upon for hydropower projects, industrial use, drinking water and tourism. However, along with increased usage has come a plethora of problems. Better management is urgently needed.

Shipping capacity on the Yangtze has risen dramatically over the past decade, as billions of renminbi have been poured into dredging and deepening it. The river, which runs from the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau to the East China Sea in Shanghai, accounts for around 80% of China’s river cargo transport. A high priority has been placed on its development, as it is being tapped to drive growth in the regions further inland through which it winds. Heavy loads, such as iron ore, are cheaper to transport by river than by rail or road, owing to lower fuel costs and the absence of tolls.

As inland demand has boomed in the past decade, so has shipping traffic. This includes inputs for industry, such as iron ore and automotive components, as well as for consumption, such as soybeans. The Yangtze also serves as a means for inland cities such as Chongqing, where production of cars and steel is booming, to ship such goods downstream for sale or export. Shipping volumes on the river’s main course quadrupled over 2003‑12. In the first five months of 2013, container throughput on the Yangtze rose by 22.2% year on year, picking up from the 8.7% growth it recorded in the same period of 2012.

Great expectations

Efforts are under way to raise throughput further. More dredging will take place to deepen the river, enabling it to handle heavier vessels. The State Council (China’s cabinet) has announced a goal of raising inland river freight capacity to 3bn tonnes a year by 2020—double the amount transported in 2010.

Alongside this, cities along the river’s path have rolled out their own visions for the development of their river ports and logistics capacities. Plans for major ports along the Yangtze, particularly at Cuntan Bonded Zone in Chongqing, emphasise raised shipping capacities and the ability to handle larger ships. In 2012, for example, local media reported that Wuhan’s government had approved a Rmb300bn (US$48bn) five‑year blueprint to develop the capital of Hubei province into a major shipping hub.

Cadres in smaller port hubs also have great aspirations to exploit their position along the Yangtze. Officials in Anqing (Anhui province) are attempting to turn its river port into a regional shipping hub, allocating Rmb10bn for development.

Hydropower competes

But at the same time, the Yangtze is being tapped for a growing number of hydropower projects. Provincial governments are under pressure to raise the proportion of renewable sources in total energy use to 15% by 2020, and regions through which the river runs are keen to exploit it. According to local media, at least 11 hydropower projects have either been completed or are under construction on the river’s upper reaches. The Xiluodu hydropower station is being built at the Yangtze’s headwaters, also called the Jinsha. When completed later this year, it will become the country’s second-largest hydropower project after the Three Gorges Dam, which sits on the Yangtze in Hubei.

Less than 200 km downstream of Xiluodu will be the Xiangjiaba project, which will start to store water on June 21st. Xiangjiaba is slated to be the country’s third-largest hydropower project when completed in 2015, and will transmit electricity through to Shanghai. The Xiangjiaba Dam will also be used to irrigate farmland and to provide drinking water to southern Sichuan

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West 8 entries win Guangzhou Fangcun Huadi Competition

On 8th Feburary, the Guangzhou City Government announces that West 8’s entry has won the Guangzhou Fangcun Huadi Sustainable Master Plan competition.

Guangzhou Huadi Fangcun (Flower City), located at Southern China, is a former delta land with traditional horticultural legacy of nowadays Guangzhou. With speedy expansion of the horticultural industry, the current scattered and disorganized land use of the area has pushed back the nature and its eco system is severely polluted. The Guangzhou Government is in search of a sustainable solution to the current problem in the era of rapid urban development. West 8’s winning entry provides the city a masterplan with sustainable vision.

The plan has the site area of 2,050 ha. (20.5km2), whereas more than 450 ha. is wetlands area. It consists of new living and industrial environments with ecological water system, wetlands, distinct division of land use zoning, urban planning with a highlight of cultural heritage and a design of an International Flora Expo Masterplan which will function as a focal point and economic generator for the whole development.

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Unlivable Cities

With all the emphasis on urban liveability and the popularity of such indexes and the critique of their usefulness, the rush by governments and city administrators to make cities more globally competitive and attractive to investors and the “creative class” – from spending on urban legacies it is unlikely London needs (2012 London Olympics Legacy | South Park | James Corner Field Operationsto the disastrous results of most state and government planning (The Best-Laid Plans) here is further critique of what it means to live in a fully urbanised world – much less exiting than Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and far more sinister even than The Matrix here is the 21st century – hopefully not coming to a city near you anytime soon – at least not here in the South.

From The Cities Issue by  BY ISAAC STONE FISH

In Invisible Cities, the novel by the great Italian writer Italo Calvino, Marco Polo dazzles the emperor of China, Kublai Khan, with 55 stories of cities he has visited, places where “the buildings have spiral staircases encrusted with spiral seashells,” a city of “zigzag” where the inhabitants “are spared the boredom of following the same streets every day,” and another with the option to “sleep, make tools, cook, accumulate gold, disrobe, reign, sell, question oracles.” The trick, it turns out, is that Polo’s Venice is so richly textured and dense that all his stories are about just one city

A modern European ruler listening to a visitor from China describe the country’s fabled rise would be better served with the opposite approach: As the traveler exits a train station, a woman hawks instant noodles and packaged chicken feet from a dingy metal cart, in front of concrete steps emptying out into a square flanked by ramshackle hotels and massed with peasants sitting on artificial cobblestones and chewing watermelon seeds. The air smells of coal. Then the buildings appear: Boxlike structures, so gray as to appear colorless, line the road. If the city is poor, the Bank of China tower will be made with hideous blue glass; if it’s wealthy, our traveler will marvel at monstrous prestige projects of glass and copper. The station bisects Shanghai Road or Peace Avenue, which then leads to Yat-sen Street, named for the Republic of China’s first president, eventually intersecting with Ancient Building Avenue. Our traveler does not know whether he is in Changsha, Xiamen, or Hefei — he is in the city Calvino describes as so unremarkable that “only the name of the airport changes.” Or, as China’s vice minister of construction, Qiu Baoxing, lamented in 2007, “It’s like a thousand cities having the same appearance.”

Why are Chinese cities so monolithic? The answer lies in the country’s fractured history. In the 1930s, China was a failed state: Warlords controlled large swaths of territory, and the Japanese had colonized the northeast. Shanghai was a foreign pleasure den, but life expectancy hovered around 30. Tibetans, Uighurs, and other minorities largely governed themselves. When Mao Zedong unified China in 1949, much of the country was in ruins, and his Communist Party rebuilt it under a unifying theme. Besides promulgating a single language and national laws, they subscribed to the Soviet idea of what a city should be like: wide boulevards, oppressively squat, functional buildings, dormitory-style housing. Cities weren’t conceived of as places to live, but as building blocks needed to build a strong and prosperous nation; in other words, they were constructed for the benefit of the party and the country, not the people.

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Entrepreneurs in chains

A rant at the bureaucracy that chains entrepreneurs in South Africa sent to me by a farmer friend who is at the mercy of these chains yet continues to farm, process and pack agricultural produce –    by Clem Sunter: Scenario planner, speaker and best-selling author.

This article is prompted by two conversations I have had recently; one with a young Chinese woman at a lunch with friends last Sunday and the other with a South African businessman who has just returned from Lagos in Nigeria.

In the first conversation, the lady said that despite the strong political hold that the Chinese Communist Party has over the nation, in the minor towns and villages across the country economic anarchy reigns. This has been incredibly beneficial in that it has led to an entrepreneurial revolution which has propelled China to No 2 in the global economic order behind the US. It may not be the sole cause because you have to consider foreign investment in China as well, but sure as night follows day it has helped.

The businessman said that he had gone to Lagos expecting another down-at-heel, demotivated Third World city. Instead, he discovered one of the most exciting places he has ever visited, putting it on the same pedestal as Hong Kong. He found the entrepreneurial energy irresistible in Lagos. Everywhere he went people were buying and selling things in an unregulated environment other than the prime rule of cash on delivery. He now considers Johannesburg’s boastful slogan of being the leading business centre in Africa to be totally empty. He sees the future of African capitalism as Lagos. Johannesburg belongs to the history book of colonial capitalism.

What both these people’s opinions had in common was the idea of economic freedom – not the one peddled by Julius Malema of transferring assets at no cost between rich and poor with an increasing role for the state. The one they have in mind is breaking the oppressive chains binding the small business owners in this country. True liberation will only come when all those creative souls who are not politicians, not civil servants, not directors or employees of large, established businesses, not unionists or union members, not the recipients of regular monthly pay cheques, are put on a par with those inhabiting parliament and the formal economy.

Consider the following chains that currently shackle South African entrepreneurs:

1. The snobbish attitude of the political and business intelligentsia in this country which at worst consider entrepreneurs to be criminals and at best greedy little capitalists that need to be tolerated as a sideshow. Whichever, they have to be regulated as an irresponsible underclass.

2. All recent national plans. They have emphasised the developmental state which is a euphemism for more chains and more regulation and more economic prioritisation. The people writing these plans have never personally had to create wealth themselves in order to be paid. As recipients of regular salaries, they have no idea of the risks involved in being an entrepreneur. Remember it is economic anarchy in China which has largely contributed to its economic miracle. Nassim Taleb puts it a different way in his books about black swans and randomness: it is all a matter of luck as to which businesses grow into major international concerns and which fail. The best policy is thus to have an environment which maximises the number of new businesses without any preferences for particular industries. The lucky ones will make it and you have no idea beforehand which they are.

3. The vast bureaucracy surrounding the establishment and ongoing operation of a small business in a legal manner. We are now regarded as one of the most hostile countries in the world for entrepreneurs. Most small businesses here only have one employee – the owner. The reason is that nobody wants to take on extra people with the potential hassle of going to the labour court if these people fail to perform. Below a certain size, entrepreneurs should have total freedom to hire and fire as it is their business and their money after all. It is not the taxpayers’ money.

4. The culture of non-payment to small business which thrives in the world of big business and government. In big business, standard payment terms can extend to 120 days while some state entities like hospitals never pay which is why they are in such trouble. The whole process of being approved as a vendor is now used an excuse to defer payment. Can you imagine going to a supermarket and walking out with a trolley full of goods and saying to the security guard that you will pay as soon as the supermarket fills in the appropriate forms to become your approved vendor? Big companies do this all the time to small service providers.

5. The tight-fisted approach of all providers of capital to entrepreneurs in South Africa. The financial universe here resembles a well-heeled club that is happy to extend credit to members. But woe betide uppity non-members who rudely knock on its doors making unreasonable requests to finance small business ventures. What a lack of manners! Why don’t they just disappear and borrow from their equally vulgar and impecunious friends?

I can go on, but we have completely lost the plot. Until we fundamentally change our mindset in regard to entrepreneurs and regard them as the centrepiece of this nation’s future economic prosperity, we are finished. Nigeria will overtake us in the next 10 years as the continent’s largest and most vibrant economy and leave us eating dust.

Useful resources:

Mind of a Fox We are foxy, game-playing strategists and the authors of two number 1 best selling books

Winner of the Tianjin Samaranch Memorial Museum Competition

An collaboration between Architect,  Landscape Architects and Engineers yields an innovative and transparent  environment  celebrating the 2008 Olympics in form and features  from bustler 

Brooklyn/Copenhagen-based HAO / Holm Architecture Office in collaboration with Archiland BeijingKragh & Berglund landscape architects, and engineering consultants Cowi Beijing, has won first prize in a competition to design the Samaranch Memorial Museum in Tianjin, China.

Competition-winning design for the new Samaranch Memorial Museum in Tianjin, China

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Competition-winning design for the new Samaranch Memorial Museum in Tianjin, China

Juan Antonio Samaranch of Spain was the president of the International Olympic Committee from 1980 to 2001. Throughout his presidency he advocated for reform and inclusion and was a strong supporter of China’s bid as host city for the 2008 Olympic Games. Tianjin, a city of over 12 million people in northwestern China near Beijing, was the site of several Olympic events. The new museum and memorial will both highlight Samaranch’s professional history and look to the future, offering space for rotating exhibits of contemporary art and culture.

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MVRDV Wins Competition for China Comic and Animation Museum in Hangzhou

via bustler – some might say this is where these architects belong…. suitably futuristic and fantastic for the projects theme.

Hangzhou urban planning bureau has announced Dutch firm MVRDV winner of the international design competition for the China Comic and Animation Museum (CCAM) in Hangzhou, China. MVRDV’s winning design refers to the speech balloon: a series of eight balloon shaped volumes create an internally complex museum experience of in total 30,000m2. Part of the project is also a series of parks on islands, a public plaza and a 13,000m2 expo center. Construction start is envisioned for 2012, the total budget is 92 million Euro.

MVRDV won the competition of EMBTAtelier Bow WowTongji Institute of Architectural Designand Tsinghua Architectural Design. The MVRDV team consists further of Kossman.deJong exhibition architects, local architect Zhubo Architectural & Engineering DesignArup engineersand JongeMeesters graphic design.

Competition-winning design for the China Comic and Animation Museum (CCAM) by MVRDV © MVRDV

Competition-winning design for the China Comic and Animation Museum (CCAM) by MVRDV © MVRDV Continue reading

Interview: Should We Worry about a Global Population Explosion?

Via Polis Posted by Katia Savchuk

Sometime this year, the global population will reach 7 billion, according to United Nations estimates. Twenty-one cities now hold more than 10 million people, and many more will join their ranks by mid-century. Robert Kunzig, senior environment editor of National Geographic, shares his views on the impacts of the explosion and whether alarmism is warranted.  His feature on the population boom, the beginning of a year-long series on our crowded planet, appeared in the magazine this month.

The demographic tools at our disposal have presumably matured since Leeuwenhoek’s estimate based on cod milt. What are the best tools we have today to measure population growth and fertility rates, and how accurate are they? 

Demographers still don’t have a scientific theory that would allow them to predict in advance how many babies will be born and thus how population will grow. What they have is decades’ worth of data on how population actually has grown in many countries. They use those observations of the past to project the future, country by country and for the planet as a whole. The UN’s global projections have been pretty accurate lately, but the farther out you go, the more uncertainty there is. So we know we’re going to hit 7 billion soon. Whether there’ll be 9 or 8 or 10 billion in 2050 is less certain. Continue reading

Where developers drive design

In this interview from Beijing by Brendan McGetrick of domus are we giving the other side of the picture from Kongjian Yu’s views of amore sustainable China and in so doing giving its form to the rest of the world? 

The CEO of SOHO China discusses the fine line between ambition, progress, and controversy

For the first installment in the series, Brendan McGetrick spoke with Zhang Xin, the CEO of SOHO China, the largest real estate developer in Beijing. For the past fifteen years, SOHO has worked to introduce a number of innovations into China’s urban development, emphasizing flexibility of use, expressive design, and public engagement. We talked about the strengths and weaknesses of China’s construction industry, the joy of Twitter, and how real estate development is like conducting a symphony.

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Garden of 10,000 bridges 万桥园 opens at Xian Expo: West 8

Another intriguing exploration from Adrian Geuze and West8  – a variation on the classic theme of life is a journey. By Damian Holmes of World Landscape Architecture 

The International Horticultural Expo in Xian, China opened on 28th April. The Garden of 10,000 bridges by West 8 is complete along with many other display gardens.

Gardens are telling stories; they are poetry and have a narrative. Our garden represents the human life, the path of people’s lifetime. This path is a path of uncertainty and burden. Many bridges over troubled water. The garden design takes this path of life as a meandering, winding road – continuous and like a labyrinth. The path through nature takes you over 10000 bridges.

Read the original articleon World Landscape Architecture