Georgia Tech’s Urban Design Team Proposes a New Discourse for EcoCities: Chongming Island: EcoCity 2.0

In collaboration with Shanghai’s Tongji University, students in the dual Urban Design Studio have spent the last semester conceptualizing a new framework for Eco-City Design in the context of Chongming Island, Shanghai. The design groups from Georgia Tech and Tongji University traveled to the largely rural island at the mouth of the Yangtze River to conduct field studies with the locals and identify key challenges. After their visit, students and faculty took part in a week long workshop that included 11 Georgia Tech students, professors Perry Yang and Richard Dagenhart, Ph.D. candidate Steven Quan, as well as Tongji students and faculty. The students worked to create a world class development plan for the southeastern site of the island that will be environmentally sustainable as well as culturally responsive.

Chongming Island is situated on the coast of Shanghai and represents a source of environmental capital as well as food security. As China confronts explosive population growth as well as aging urban infrastructure, Chongming Island has been lauded as having the potential to transcend its rural roots and become an ecologically sensitive urban oasis. The island is home to around 700,000 residents, most of which reside in local agricultural villages. Adjacent to the design site is a RAMSAR site composed of critical wetland habitat for many important species of migratory birds. The area is facing challenges balancing market-driven development projects, the ecological needs of the sensitive wetlands area, and the desire to preserve the homes and livelihoods of the locals.

While in China, the Georgia Tech students and professors proposed design frameworks supported by research and fieldwork conducted in the prior weeks. The plans elucidated upon concepts focusing on renewable energy, efficient waterway design, and sustainable agriculture in the context of incremental development. As much of the literature on ecological cities is based in a post-industrial setting, the design ideas created through Perry Yang’s Dual Urban Design Studio for Chongming Island can be used to inform a new discourse on Eco-City design in the context of developing areas.

The opportunity to visit the island, converse with locals, and explore the culture of both Chongming Island and Shanghai allowed the students to cultivate a deeper understanding of the problems and challenges facing the island. Upon their return to the U.S., the students worked to refine and finalize their design schemas and proposals.  Students will go over their collaborative design process, explore the findings of their performance analyses, and propose their final design during the last week of classes.

The international urban design studio is part of the research agenda of Sino-U.S. Eco Urban Lab to review the Chongming eco island at Dongtan, the first named ecocity in China. The Chongming eco island was previously proposed by a British firm ARUP but never implemented.  The Eco Urban Lab is co-organized by Georgia Tech and Tongji University in Shanghai.

The joint studio received partial support from Bayer Chair endowment to United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) - Tongji Institute of Environment for Sustainable Development for its "10 cities 10 years" program to continuously investigate China's urbanization and ecological effects in the next decade. Shanghai's Chongming Eco Island is seen as a pilot project.

For more information, visit the studio group’s website at: http://waterfrontcities.wordpress.com.

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