A Model Approach for Improving Quality of Life without Increasing Carbon Emissions

It's a good theme

--Xie Zhengyi, Mayor of Yangzhou

A Model Approach for Improving Quality of Life without Increasing Carbon Emissions

The issue of how to improve the quality of life of citizens, rejuvenate old towns and integrate such development into modern city planning, yet without increasing carbon emissions, has long been a difficulty in China's urban development. Yangzhou, a 2,500-year old city of 5 square kilometres, faces this problem.

In 2011, the US-China Partnership for Climate Action (PCA) program, sponsored by USAID and implemented by the Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC), began partnering with the Yangzhou Municipal Government to undertake the planning and development of the former site of the Yangzhou Hinge Factory and surrounding communities. The goal is to turn a 4,134 m2 area overgrown with weeds, filled with debris, and with few amenities, into a vibrant place with community services and low-carbon enhancements.

The project emphasizes a community participation process to ensure that the end result will reflect citizen interests and be a place they want to live. In the initial planning stages, many discussion sessions were organized to allow local residents to express their opinions. The consensus from the community consultation was that the historical architectural style and features of Yangzhou should be maintained; for example, by designing narrow emergency vehicle access streets, and retaining and even expanding public spaces. They also advocated for support be provided, as far as is possible, to surrounding homes in need of repair.

In order to maintain a low carbon footprint in this kind of neighborhood, the project team has taken an approach that can be taken as a model for other historical communities. The project balances amenity modernization, cost considerations, and ecological harmony by incorporating mature, affordable, and attractive low carbon technologies familiar to everyone, for example energy saving materials for buildings, rainwater collection systems, solar water heating systems, and cooling landscaping. These technologies recommended by ISC are "affordable to common people," cheaply achieving energy efficiency by reducing cooling loads, harvesting heat from the sun, and capturing water resources, all while minimizing carbon emissions. This common-sense approach makes the project highly implementable and gives it value as a reference case for others.

The next phase of the project is to educate the residents about the planned low carbon features of their community redevelopment, so that they be part of the pursuit for sustainability. In preparation for this, project partner Yangzhou University researched current residential greenhouse gas emissions. Over two months, the research group interviewed staff of several utility departments and collected data on residential energy consumption. The research group then recruited more than ten resident representatives and on December 7, 2011, trained them to survey local residents on energy use. The collected data will be analyzed with a tool called Urban-RAM, developed by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory with support from ISC, to determine the carbon footprint of the old town area of Yangzhou. This will give them a baseline for comparing how proposed community redevelopments will not only offer them a more convenient and comfortable life, but also perform better environmentally.

The project has been a true multi-party partnership, and has benefited from the extensive participation and mutual learning between, local, regional, and even international practitioners. For example, on December 8, 2011, Dr. Yin Hongxi, the first Chinese LEED certified expert on green community development, shared LEED Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) practices and case studies with 200 local governmental officials and technical experts. LEED-ND is an internationally recognized guideline for green planning and design for communities. The discussion highlighted how LEED-ND could be applied to Yangzhou and was well received by participants. Mrs Zheng Lu, Director of the Office for Protection of Old Town Area of Yangzhou Municipality, said it was "inspiring" to see how world-class best practice could help her own town.

In the project construction phase, ISC will continue its multi-level engagement approach to maximize the project's positive impacts. In face-to-face discussions, residents can exchange ideas with experts, scholars, and community professionals; through seminars, trainings and information exchange, all participants can reach a consensus on sustainable development for their community. This process will lay the foundation for continued cooperation after the completion of this construction project.

The project aims to improve the living comfort of residents in the old town area and protect traditional features at an acceptable level of investment.

--Chen Yang, Deputy Mayor of Yangzhou

The project plan, authored by the Jiangsu Eco-City Planning and Design Research Institute and the Yangzhou Architectural Design Research Institute, has been submitted to the authorities for approval, and is expected to break ground in early 2012. Within the year, the over 2,000 residents of the community will be able to see their ideas come to life in their new, more environmental-friendly neighborhood.

As the first urban redevelopment project in Yangzhou to integrate low-carbon concepts into old town revitalization, upon its completion it will serve as a valuable model for ecologically and culturally vibrant redevelopment for other areas of Yangzhou and across China.

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