David Ames is Head of the International Garden Cities Institute. He tells us about his recent trip to China to speak about how Garden City Principles can apply to new developments in the world’s most populated country.
In November last year I paid my third visit to China to meet with officials from Greentown and Bluetown development companies, based in Hangzhou. The visit was funded by Greentown and organised by the China Design Centre, based in London.
Greentown is under the leadership of historian President Song, who is extremely knowledgeable about Ebenezer Howard and the Garden City Movement and passionate about creating good quality places to live.
Dr Ying Ying Tian from the China Design Centre, Katy Lock from the Town and Country Planning Association and I visited some of the Greentown developments called Peach and Spring Blossom. Instantly I noticed a difference compared to other schemes I have seen in Chengdu. The Greentown developments were clearly aimed at middle and higher earners, and had real quality to their layout and design.
There were homes with a series of small gardens, sometimes three to serve one home, with buildings influenced by traditional Chinese design, rather than American or European design. These were comfortable well-designed places, in good quality environments, with excellent mature gardens. Particularly impressive was the level of community facilities provided such as restaurants, shops, swimming pools and gyms.
Quality of life for older people
President Song has a passion for ensuring that those who live in his developments have a good quality of life for as long as they choose to live there. This was clear at our visit to an older persons’ development of about 5,000 units, called Wu Town Graceland.
The development was a combination of low and higher rise accommodation, which provides high quality buildings, open space and landscaping, all very well maintained. Facilities include a hospital, a university with a full programme of activity, a gym, swimming pool, relaxation spaces, 400-seat theatre, restaurants, cafes, outside sport and visitor accommodation. This created the feel of a university campus, but with small vehicles ferrying residents around. This is a brilliant example of China’s respect for older people.
Garden City learnings
An issue for the Greentown and Bluetown teams is stewardship and this is where Letchworth Garden City is of great interest to them. The Greentown management team wanted to understand more about how this may influence the way their developments are looked after in the long term and whether Garden City Principles can be applied.
I presented at a forum and talked about Letchworth Garden City’s history, master planning, stewardship and governance. The talk was beamed across China to approximately 1,200 people, as well as to the audience at the Forum.
Following the Forum, we agreed that Greentown will fund a collaboration over the next three to five years to share learning, with a focus on the work of the Heritage Foundation, as well as other Garden City examples in the UK.