World’s biggest coal consumer takes city-size eco-friendly step

Imagine a seaside city of 500,000 inhabitants that recycles or reuses everything, so that it produces no waste. The buildings, constructed according to the principles of bioclimatic architecture, require 70 percent less energy for heating and cooling than do conventional buildings. They have roof gardens, have been built from material that is produced locally in order to keep down transport and energy costs, and each of them – equipped with photovoltaic cells and small wind turbines – produces a large part of the energy it consumes. Larger wind turbines, positioned on the perimeter of the city, combined with incineration of organic waste, such as rice hulls and vegetable peel, meet the city’s requirements for energy. Neither coal nor oil are used to produce energy. The entire city is criss-crossed by sidewalks, cycle paths, parks and open spaces. The only vehicles downtown are public transport, as residents are encouraged to park out of town and use bicycles, rechargeable electric scooters, solar and hydro-powered taxis, and buses fueled by hydrogen. If they must drive their car, they can make use of a car pool service. All this and much more is actually going to happen in Dongtan, the first ecological city in the world, which has been under construction for some months. The city lies 40 kilometers outside Shanghai, and is scheduled to receive its first residents in 2010. Until about a year ago, Dongtan was no more than a large tract of farmland on the east side of Chongming island, which is just a few kilometers from a significant wetland habitat that is a refuge for wild fowl. According to the plan to be implemented by the construction company that is building the town, farming has already been halted in the area bordering on the wild bird refuge so as to create a neutral zone between it and the city. An estimated 300 million Chinese are expected to move from the provinces to the cities in the next 15 years. It is no coincidence that the Chinese government has decided to test this experiment in environmentally friendly living. Dongtan will be the first of four such cities that have already been planned and will be built virtually from scratch in the next few years. «The last thing we want is to create a Chinese city in European style or to create a futuristic environment that is alien to the culture and the people who will live in it,» explained architect Braoulio Morera, a member of the team that planned Dongtan. «We tried to reinterpret the Chinese city and the Chinese lifestyle in the light of the 21st century.» Strange as it may seem, all this is happening in the same country that produces and consumes the largest amount of coal in the world. The numbers speak for themselves: Seven out of 10 Chinese power stations burn coal, while five of the 10 cities with the highest levels of pollution in the whole world are in China. «It is a rather contradictory country,» observed Dimitris Ibraim, head of the campaign against climate change at Greenpeace in Greece. But Dongtan can serve as an example to other countries, even Greece: «It is practicable, but it cannot be done in the immediate future.»