A garden in a residential area in Xiamen, Fujian Province, is designed to collect as much rain water as possible （XINHUA）
Cities in China are bursting at the seams and scraping further into the sky as the country pushes forward urbanization policies. Consequently, this has also exacerbated urban maladies such as pollution, traffic congestion and insufficient public services.
On February 21, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council released a guideline for urban planning, development and management. The document is an outcome of the Central Urban Work Conference held in Beijing last December.
This conference is the second urban conference hosted by the central leadership in 37 years, which suggests that the government has attached new found significance to these issues.
When introducing the guideline, Chen Zhenggao, Minister of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, said that the document sets the overall goal for China's future urban planning, development and management. That target is to realize an orderly urban construction, rational development and efficient operation, and strive to build harmonious, livable, vibrant and unique modern cities, in order to improve people's lives.
In the past five years, 100 million people have swarmed from rural areas to cities. Now, 56.1 percent of the country's total population is located in urban areas, according to data from the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC).
Currently, China has 653 cities, of which, more than 140 have a population exceeding 1 million, said Hu Zucai, Vice Minister of the NDRC, at a press conference dated January 29.
Targets and timetables
The plan spells out seven main tasks including strengthening urban planning; making cities more unique, energy-efficient, and livable; improving public services, enhancing the quality and safety of urban structures; as well as innovating urban governance.
A highlight of the document is that it specifies that urban architecture should follow the principle of being "practical, economic, green and beautiful."
According to the scheme, cities' landscapes should also be unique by reflecting regional, ethnic and contemporary features while historical and cultural characteristics should also be preserved. Buildings should meet design requirements in terms of shape, color, scale and height, the document adds.
The guideline also encourages domestic and foreign architecture design firms to compete with each other to produce outstanding works and promote design exchanges.
While requiring buildings to be beautiful and in harmony with the environment, the document clarifies that the single-handed pursuit of a building's appearance should be avoided. Buildings should be functionally practical and environmentally friendly, and should be designed with the conservation of energy, water, land and materials in mind.
Yang Baojun, Vice President of the China Academy of Urban Planning and Design, said that in the future, China will give more attention to the quality of urban development and switch from extensive to intensive development.
The guideline has specified targets to make its cities greener and more livable, as well as timetables for reaching some of the goals outlined.
Ecological restoration should also be carried out so that damaged mountains, rivers, wetlands and vegetation can be repaired, abandoned mines are reclaimed, and soil pollution tackled, the document states. It also encourages afforestation, including the greening of three-dimensional structures such as roofs and walls.
Air and water pollution control measures have been specified as well. According to the guideline, by 2020, all waste water should be treated. Also, cities suffering from water shortages should treat and recycle more than 20 percent of their waste-water.
The document requires garbage to be classified, reduced, recycled, and reused. It also stipulates that by 2020, garbage recycling rates should be raised to more than 35 percent. In the next five years, a system to collect, recycle and reuse kitchen and construction waste materials should be set up, too.
The guideline also sets goals to expand the public transportation system. By 2020, public transportation will provide more than 40 percent of China's megacities' transportation capacity, more than 30 percent in large cities, and over 20 percent in small and medium-sized cities.
The year 2020 will also be the deadline for the dismantling of unauthorized structures, designating historical and cultural neighborhoods, and the completion of the renovation of existing rundown urban areas and dilapidated housing.
By that year, 20 percent of cities in China should have drainage systems that are resistant to water-logging and flooding. By 2030, the document states that the figure should rise to 80 percent.
A resident of Changchun, capital of Jilin Province, watches TV at his new home on November 1, 2015. His old home in a shanty town was torn down and he was given a new home by the government （XINHUA）
Another highlight of the plan is the hotly debated policy on opening up enclosed residential compounds.
The document contains an article stating that in principle, no enclosed residential compounds will be built in the future, while those already built will gradually be opened. This is so that internal roads can be more easily accessed by the public, problems in the layout of the transportation network can be solved, and efficient land use promoted.
On February 22, one day after the guideline was issued, Wang Peng, a resident in Beijing's Haidian District, was alerted by a constant beeping from his cellphone, which indicated an influx of WeChat instant messages.
Wang checked his cellphone and noticed a heated discussion was going on, about whether or not the walls surrounding residential compounds should be torn down.
He found that opinions on this issue were widely divided. One neighbor, who was irritated by someone damaging the gate to his building during the Chinese New Year holiday, said that if the residential compound's wall were to be dismantled, he would feel even less secure. Nonetheless, another neighbor hoped that the compound lying between her home and the subway station could be made open because cutting through the compound could save her at least 20 minutes of commuting time every day.
Yang said that enclosed residential compounds make cities less charming and less vibrant, and that this situation should be changed accordingly. While clusters of buildings are segregated by walls, enclosed spaces and amenities cannot be shared with other members of the public. Yang said that modern cities should be open in that respect.
In the past decades, more and more enclosed residential compounds have been built by property developers, so although urban traffic "arteries" have been getting broader and broader, smaller "capillaries" have remained clogged, he said.
The newly released blueprint states that urban road networks should have a sound balance of expressways in addition to primary and secondary roads, while dead-end roads should be reduced.
To ease traffic jams, the scheme sets a specific target for the density of urban traffic networks. According to the guideline, by 2020, the average urban road density should be increased to 8 km per square km, and the roads should account for 15 percent of the total area. Yang said that currently in most cities, roads take up 12 percent of the total area.
Nonetheless, after the document was published, many people voiced their concerns over the opening up of enclosed residential compounds, mainly out of worries about the threat to property safety and road safety if the walls were gone.
Responding to public concern, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development quickly released remarks to explain. The ministry stated that the new policy is not a one-size-fits-all requirement, and that it will be implemented step by step according to the actual conditions of residential areas. They also stressed that residents' opinions would be taken into consideration and that their legitimate rights and interests would be protected.
Copyedited by Bryan Michael Galvan
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