ASLA Live Blogging: Landscape Architecture As a Way to Bring Sustainable Development Policy to China
Jaiding City Center Park.

Jaiding City Center Park. Rendering by Sasaki.

Live blogging from the American Society of Landscape Architects 2010 Expo and Design Conference in Washington, D.C., held at the Convention Center on September 10-12.

“Shanghai is sinking.”

That’s what landscape architect Xiaowei Ma, president and founder of Ager Design said during yesterday’s education session, “Regenerative Landscapes in China: Ecological stewardship in an Urbanizing Society.” Ma is working on a project in Jiading District, a satellite town outside of Shanghai, along with landscape architects Michael Grove and Mark Reaves from the firm, Sasaki Associates Inc. Their Central Park-esque design integrates, water, trails and wildlife into a new development in within the District.

The community is along the now thoroughly degraded Yangtze River that has become a series of man-made canals and irrigation areas. Over the years, a huge wetland became urban sprawl. And now the satellite town of Jiading has grown out of industrial development in the 1980s. For Ma, Jiading Park is the most important suburb of Shanghai.  Agriculture arrives right at its edge. Tiny parcels of greenspace dot Jiading, but there’s no high quality greenspace.

A Place of Firsts

Jiading was the first town outside of Shanghai that became connected to the megacity via highway.  In the 1990s, as slums in Shanghai were cleared and more residents relocated, a number of people ended up in Jiading, which today has around 1.3 million people. According to Ma, 1 million people moved to Shanghai’s suburbs from 1990 to 2000 and another half million during this decade. For more images of Jiading and a history of its development, check out this post from

Today the government is planning a massive and far more organized development in the District.  Much of the plan involves bringing ecology back to a place where it has been relegated to little importance.  The planners of the design say their role is deeper than simply acting as architects designing a park; they are educating and informing policy makers by creating landscapes that shape a community and express its culture, bringing biodiversity back to a polluted landscape. Plus, the fact that they have been hired by the Chinese government to do this kind of work is a huge step. A Chinese policy in place since 2007 evaluates mayors not simply by level of economic growth but also includes environmental and energy targets in this evaluation system. The architects say more and more green design is influencing China’s development.

Another rendering of Jiading Park by Sasaki.

Another rendering of Jiading Park by Sasaki.

Located in what will be a densely residential area, the government’s original design for Jiading Park cut up the landscape with roads and involved a small ring of greenery around the community. The architects worked to reduce crossroads by a third and even tunneled a few underneath the park.  The presenters described the linear park as having a sense of movement given its two major pathways that weave across the length of the park. This promotional video shows an interactive design of the park:

The site is currently under construction and the architects involved say they are optimistic about sustainable growth in China. They acknowledge that many Chinese planners still look to the U.S. model of development: sprawl, cars and free standing homes. (See our previous post about China’s need for an “urban awakening” to reverse this trend.)

The hope is that accommodating nature into future urban designs will provide broader benefits and improvements in quality of life, especially for dwellers on the outskirts of mega-cities like Shanghai.

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