Reflecting on Eighteen Years Healing Chinese Cities
By Kongjian Yu
译 萨拉•雅各布斯 陈立欣
My musings on Chinese urbanization and new construction began in 1996 when I prepared for returning China. At that time, I traveled by train from Hong Kong to Shenzhen, and then arrived in Beijing via Shanghai. The changes I saw during this trip astonished me. In Shenzhen, our guides proudly showed off the newly finished, oversized urban avenues while turning a blind eye to the helplessness of an old farmer laboring his way through. Large areas of farmland in the heart of the city had been abandoned and were covered in weeds in anticipation of future preservation at the city center. (The city center was built up eventually with giant paved axial streets and a central park.) Also at this time, Pudong in Shanghai was under development, and hundreds of half-finished buildings were becoming a bizarre concrete jungle. From the train window, the havoc wreaked on the landscape, from the wetland filled with construction waste to bulldozed villages, was visible. Entering Beijing, I saw roads undergoing a campaign of aggressive enlargement, including the Zhongguancun North Road just outside the east gate of Peking University. Rows of aspens had been cleared and clusters of courtyards were filled with debris. At this time, river management projects were increasingly popular. The concretization and straightening of waterways had reduced riparian edges to nothing, land for neighborhood development was becoming enclosed, and the “three connections and one leveling” campaign had turned raw land into developable, ripe land. Exotic flowers and ancient trees replanted from countryside had been used to decorate streets, municipal plazas, and luxury residential buildings. The country was unquestioningly celebrating urbanization.
What I witnessed nineteen years ago went against the urbanization theories I had been taught. Influenced by The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs and Design with Nature by Ian McHarg, I became convinced that China was sick from the mistakes of urbanization. In response, I returned to China in January, 1997, began speaking my qualms, and devoted my practice to healing and preventing the illness befallen so many Chinese cities. Like an epidemiologist, I identified four groups responsible for spreading the virus of poor urbanization. First, are the policy makers, empowered by the state and motivated by a combination of power and GDP, this group follows a predestinated course. The second are the developers, who feed off capital, voracity, wickedness, and vulgarity. The third are urban design professionals who carry the virus by misusing their authority and promoting outdated knowledge. Finally, is the general public, who incubate a social and cultural environment that facilitates invasion of the previous three carriers. For these reasons, a myriad of urban illnesses are wreaking havoc in Chinese cities, culturally, socially, economically, ecologically, and environmentally. To treat this epidemic — the most severe in human history — it must be treated.
My first prescription is directed at urban policy makers and developers. Since 1998, my fierce criticism has been lunged against the urbanization movement for its unchecked centralized power and parvenu syndrome. The cure for this is a return to the Culture Movement which will help guide focus back to democracy and science. This can be taught to policy makers and the public through media campaigns and seminars. (The main points of this strategy were discussed in my 2003 book, The Road of Urban Landscape, coauthored with Dihua Li.)
Second, I have advocated for an art of survival, or an approach of negative-planning aimed at urban planners and designers, landscape architects, architects, etc. This antidote is as much self-critique as it is directed towards the whole profession. The traditional Chinese landscape has been unable to develop beyond the garden of feudal times, and has failed to adapt in response to rapid urbanization. Landscape as a tool for mitigating relationships between people and land was the focus of my 2006 book, The Art of Survival and a series of articles published between 1998 and 2000 in Chinese Landscape Architecture. I have also been critical of urban planning under the background of planned economy, which has only consolidated resources for power hungry and greedy developers. I brought up the concept of negative-planning approach in 2002, and explored the idea in detail in the 2005 book, Negative-Planning Approach. My directive was not to begin with one plan, but to define a non-construction area and particularly the ecological essential line, that would prevent unregulated sprawling. Additionally, we established a more detailed methodology for defining and initiating the ecological security pattern and ecological infrastructure — rather than conventional grey infrastructure — that would help build livable and sustainable cities.
My third cure is aimed at popular culture and is what I have called the Big Feet Revolution. I am fully convinced that the people are the social and culture base and the public education of Big Feet Revolution will be the cure to China’s poor urban development. My proposal for this social change takes its name from the small foot aesthetic — the practice of pursuing a concept of deformed beauty at the expense of health and function — that has dominated Chinese beauty standards for a thousand years. Rather, I propose harnessing the knowledge of the environment and everyday life — Big Feet knowledge — to awaken a new culture of aesthetics. This calls for an urban enlightenment, an eco-friendly consciousness that responds to the land. The Big Feet Revolution has been written about in the article, “Foot Culture and Virtue of Weed,” has been included in middle school textbooks (Jiangsu Province version), and in various other essays. This point is also heavily reflected in the book Back to the Land (2009).
For the strategies mentioned above to work, corresponding interventions are needed. There are four agents that can be effective in advancing these strategies.
First is to learn from the spiritual leaders of the May Fourth New Literary Movement. I find stepping out of the ivory tower and direct communication with policy makers to be the most effective approach. Policy makers are an ambitious and smart group, and except for the small part of them who abuse their power for private interests, they are open to new approaches. Often, after meeting with this group, I am immediately taken to construction sites where I stop the construction of straight river channels, the destruction of historical residential settlements, and the filling of working wetlands. It has been most effective to intervene with policy makers at the highest level. For example, in advocating for an eco-security pattern and sponge city construction, my concepts and suggestions have been accepted by the national ministry. Reaching the highest level of management has worked around the country, and it gives me confidence in the management of Chinese cities.
However, I feel helpless towards the technical officers and professionals who adhere to outdated knowledge. They are not only resistant to new strategies, but also defenders of the old knowledge system. Education of the younger generation gives me hope. Therefore, I am especially eager to teach mayors, professionals, and parents who have the power to reach children and young students.
The second intervention is education. Mentoring a new generation of technical officers will potentially help cure cities for the foreseeable future. This is a long-term project. In my teaching, I am inspired by the knowledge that graduates of Peking University will probably become chief designers, if not governmental officials. It will be a solace to see some of them save land and communities. But what a tough task it is to run a school! In the 15 years it has taken to start a design center, research academy, and college, my colleagues and I have grown white hairs.
My third technique also comes from the May Fourth New Literary Movement: publish articles, launch periodicals, and explore as many methods of new media as possible. At the beginning, the articles were accepted with alacrity, but these critical ones attracted the attention, even anger, from the industry. Knowing how difficult it is to publish critical articles, I began reaching out to those with the same objectives and motivations. During our first five years, we did not have access to officially launch periodicals, and could only publish “series books” instead. This was very difficult. Finally, we obtained our own ISSN, and started the journal Landscape Architecture Frontiers, which received global recognition with its concerted effort to general real conversation around the Chinese urban condition.
The final catalyst for change is practice. Through professional practice, we have the power of examples. The involvement and effort of nearly 500 colleagues at TURENSCAPE has provided an indispensable base for the development and implementation of my theories. The Big Feet Revolution has spread into two layers of planning and design, first is the negative-planning approach and urban eco-infrastructure on the planning layer, and the second is contemporary urban design and landscape engineering aimed at low maintenance and comprehensive ecosystem services. The layering of ecology awareness and contemporary art is the foundation for our design practice.
By now, TURENSCAPE has worked in 200 Chinese cities and more around the world. I am very proud of the role we have played in solving the woes of contemporary Chinese cities.
This article may feel self-focused; but what better insights do we have than the work and research we have completed ourselves? I have been fortunate to have developed the experience, among the aggressive waves of urban construction, to fight urban illness in this country. Meanwhile, I can leave my words and works for the future reference. May they be a source for future generations to ponder, to judge, and to learn from, and find inspiration.
Translated by Sara JACOBS Connie CHEN
【英文刊名】Landscape Architecture Frontiers • Reflection on New Urbanization and Sustainability
【作者】约翰•R•罗根（John R. LOGAN），李津逵（Jinkui LI），李迪华（Dihua LI）,黄剑（Jian HUANG）等
Interpreting the Challenges of China’s Urbanization
作者：约翰•R•罗根，朱宇姝John R. LOGAN，Yushu ZHU
Rapid urbanization is changing the social order in China. This essay will focus especially on two aspects of this change: the twin phenomena of the urban-rural divide and its expression within cities as disparities between locals and migrants. We examine the situation in part through a comparative lens: Is China like any other country in our experience? We will take the case of urbanization in the United States a century earlier and Brazil more recently to point out similarities and differences. We also apply a theoretical lens: what are the fundamental causes of the patterns we see in China, and what general theory of societal change best helps us to interpret it?
Urbanization; Developmental State; Modernization; Migration; Urban-rural Inequality
Looking back and ahead at China’s Urbanization
作者：李津逵，李迪华Jinkui LI，Dihua LI
This dialogue took place under the background of the ”new urbanization” referred by 18th CCP Report. Jinkui Li and Dihua Li first looked back the history of China’s urbanization, then discussed the typical urban morphologies and related contributing reasons, the different urbanization stages, the difference and shift between the western and eastern China, and finally, predicted and explored the issues and opportunities that would be brought by the “new urbanization” in China.
New Urbanization; Urban Morphology; Population Migration; Labor Force
Towards a Slow-down Urbanization in China
As a witness to the high-speed urbanization of China, the author highlights its misunderstandings and problems using the example of the Nantai Island in Fuzhou. The interview explores new issues facing urban planning within this slow-down urbanization, and reflections are made to the entire design profession.
New Urbanization; Reflection; Nantai Island; Shift
A Gradual Evolutionary Progress: YangmeizhuXiejie Renovation Plan and Mixed-courtyard Public Space Design, Beijing
作者：无界景观工作室View Unlimited, Landscape Architecture Studio
YangmeizhuXiejie renovation plan and mixed-courtyard public space design are projects concerning on old city redevelopment with the approaches of “gene repair.” The two projects are both based on the original design of YangmeizhuXiejie, and the later is the complement and extension of the former, forming an interdependent relationship like the main vein and the offshoot, or hardware and software. The former, which focused on strategies such as combing and cleaning of existing spaces, is aimed for restoration and reconstruction of the current living environment; while the later is an action with "in-depth cells" intervention, which is an invisible "living model" advices that would change the environment, encouraging positive lifestyle upgrades.
Urban Renovation; Organic Renewal; Community Building; Sense of Belonging; Lifestyle
Pedestrian Zone of the City Center of Velenje, Slovenia
Velenje is a special city. As new post-war town designed in the 1950s, its design was based on the Modernist ideal of the garden city and as such, which is unique in the Slovene space. This special characteristic is to be, first of all, retained; it is then to be rid of unnecessary and undesirable elements that have accrued through time; finally, it needs to be upgraded according to the needs of contemporary life. The city center must be enhanced with the programs it is missing, instilling more life into it.
Urban Revitalization; Pedestrian Zone; People; Program Bands
Blue Circle — Zaryadye Park, Moscow
In June 2013, the TURENSCAPE Consortium was selected, as one of a shortlist of six, to prepare a design proposal for Zaryadye Park, Moscow. Our scheme is titled “The Blue Circle of Moscow,” which has a reflecting pool in the shape of a perfect circle as its centerpiece, as a mirror to the Moscow skyline, managing urban stormwater, and around which a myriad of programs and landscapes will flourish.
The Blue Circle is envisioned as a new city icon, which links the past with the present and the future, which reconnects man with nature, which reunites the separated urban space, and which gathers individuals of all kinds.
Blue Circle; City Icon; Historical Memory; Ecological Service
The Energy Corridor District COMPREHENSIVE Master Plan, Houston, Texas, USA
作者：金埈铉，宁思曼，孙源敏，格伦•纽曼，马蒂森•托马斯Jun-Hyun KIM, Siman NING, Wonmin SOHN, Galen NEWMAN, Madison THOMAS
This project focuses on reclaiming an existing park-and-ride and surrounding vacant lands in the Energy Corridor District of Houston, Texas, USA to create a multi-functional transit hub and livable community. The design creates a comprehensive master plan with two areas of concentration. A system-oriented design approach is applied to promote walkability and respond to environmental challenges.
Urban Design; System-oriented Design Approach; Energy Corridor District; Low Impact Development; Walkable and Bikeable Development
A Quantum City: Mastering the Generic
作者：黛安娜•阿尔瓦赫兹-马林，米洛•罗曼Diana ALVAREZ-MARIN，Miro ROMAN
We know of so many books about the city, in so many veins: engaged, theoretical, demonic, utopian, dystopian, fictitious, idealistic, green, misanthropic…. Our book A Quantum City is none of these. The only thing our book has in common with all of them is a fascination with The City itself. But we are convinced that each era — including our own — has to reinvent its City. Cities embody political and economic values and thus also the spiritual values of our cultural identities. Urbanism, by contrast, turns into something akin to a landscape — an increasingly global landscape which does not settle around different ecological compartments. Quantum physics shows us that we create our reality in the way we see and measure it. The urban is systematic and balanced, however complexly it might be engineered. But our cities are architectonic. They do not take measures for granted, they challenge them by re-articulating their units, and the magnitudes those units support. This book seeks to invert the perspective and to learn to see, instead of an empty centre, a centred void, like a citizen of our digital world — a sheaf of intelligible probability and delicate sensitivity, a quantum of City.
Quantum; City; Mastering; Generic
Invasive Pigments and Novel Hues: The Spectrum of an Urban Plant Community
The traditional native-nonnative dichotomy loses some of its utility when faced with the wild plant community of Brooklyn, New York. Hailing from around the world, these tough, adaptable plant species have co-evolved with dense human populations, unintentionally cultivated to do the tough work of greening the rough edges and unmaintained corners of a cityscape that is always in flux. Although the feral green spaces of Brooklyn may seem unremarkable in the context of our botanical gardens, city parks, and well-tended street tree pits, they provide their own set of ecological and cultural benefits that belie their status as lowly weeds. My ongoing Invasive Pigments project is designed to connect city dwellers with the evolving community of spontaneous plants that share our street verges, park edges and vacant lots. Through a tactile, participatory and aesthetically driven process, my project reframes the urban landscape, shifting the focus from concrete buildings and heavily maintained gardens to the ubiquitous but easily ignored spontaneous greenery that grows in and among them. By hunting for spots of wild, plant-derived color in the streets of Brooklyn, and processing that color through a historically-based, artisanal process, I reveal a new layer of the city’s structure, highlighting the novel plant community that has woven itself into the core of the urban ecosystem.
Art; Vacant Land; Weeds; Pigments; Urban Landscape