China’s New Urbanization Plan - Changing Buildings, Changing Minds

Barry Piper
Despite the recent economic slowdown, China is still constructing buildings at an amazing pace.

On 16th March 2014, China’s State Council released the "National New-Type Urbanization Plan" - what Premier Li Keqiang refers to as "human-centered urbanization" - as an engine to foster economic growth by strengthening the management and control of urban planning, accelerating green city developments and implementing measures to improve air quality.

Despite the recent economic slowdown, China is still constructing buildings at an amazing pace. The Plan's ambitious target to relocate 100 million residents out of the countryside into urban areas by 2020 will create a new boom in the construction industry. Speeding up urbanization will have sweeping environmental consequences, particularly the consumption of three things China cannot afford to waste: water, energy, and land, whilst putting an immense strain on the existing transportation, energy, water and waste infrastructure.

...taxation, land use and urban planning policies need to be an integral component in delivering cities that are environmentally resilient...

Therefore, taxation, land use and urban planning policies need to be an integral component in delivering cities that are environmentally resilient, socially cohesive, inclusive and livable, while at the same time respond to the challenges of congestion, air pollution, and scarcity of resources.

In recent years, the Chinese government has begun encouraging the construction of "eco-cities" to solve urbanization and since then, hundreds have been announced across China. Originally intended as models of green urban design, some of these eco cities have become laboratories for "urbanization and infrastructure" where planners are more focused on realising their futuristic design visions rather than achieve the intended benefits for the residents. Unfortunately, even the ones that are implemented are years away from benefitting our fragile environment.

...retrofitting buildings to become energy efficient is the immediate, practical and effective way to combat climate change, reduce pollution and decrease energy consumption...

Further complicating matters are cities that are being marketed as "green" but will have little or any real impact on the environment. This is why retrofitting buildings to become energy efficient is the immediate, practical and effective way to combat climate change, reduce pollution and decrease energy consumption. It must be a key part of China's strategy to reduce resource demand. A wide-scale retrofit programme will generate immediate benefits to the environment and the community as it creates jobs, provides resilience to future climate change, requires lower operating costs and increases a building's value. And if it will increase the bottom line most building owners will be happy to follow suit.

In China, there are more than 40 billion sqm of buildings. China has begun to retrofit many of the older buildings in an effort reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Earlier this year, we announced Faithful+Gould’s partnership with the Guangdong Development & Reform Commission and UK Trade & Industry to create and harness entrepreneurial thinking to transform existing Chinese factories, hospitals and universities into exemplars of Clean and Energy Efficient Production (“CEEP”) as energy is one of their biggest expenses and contributors to pollution.

Mindsets need to shift to become more environmentally conscientious in their day-to-day lives...

Many companies think retrofitting and energy saving initiatives require high capital expenditure, new equipment, and innovative solutions when the most important change of all is their mindset. Mindsets need to shift to become more environmentally conscientious in their day-to-day lives - adopting simple behaviors like turning off lights when leaving a room is just as important, in fact, more important than any building renovation, if the benefit of the renovation is to be sustained over the long term.

In conclusion, the real battle to make buildings more energy efficient lies in the minds of those operating and using the buildings.

Written by