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Cornell team in China offers innovative urban eco-design

China is expected to urbanize 400 million people in the next 25 years, and the government is preparing by building new cities, large-scale developments, residential towers and an unprecedented expansion of infrastructure. At a two-week urban design workshop in northern China, March 14-28, a Cornell team of five students and two professors proposed an innovative eco-design for such Chinese cities.

The trip to China also paved the way for a new research collaboration between the two faculty advisers on the trip, Ying Hua, Cornell assistant professor of design and environmental analysis, who received the initial invitation to organize a Cornell team to participate in the workshop, and Deni Ruggeri, Cornell assistant professor of landscape architecture. With Tongji University in Shanghai and the French Scientific and Technical Building Centre, which both sponsored the workshop, the researchers will next examine the energy and environmental efficiency as well as the social implications of urban forms in search of sustainable prototypes for Chinese cities as they rapidly develop.

The workshop took place in Huludao, a city that is being planned to be car-dependent with large arterial roads and mixed-use zoning. "If this model is adopted for the urbanizing population in China, the implications for global climate change could be catastrophic," said Jonathan Leape '11, a civil and environmental engineering and city planning major, who was on the trip. Workshop participants were challenged to use Huludao as a case study to find a solution to the environmental, economic and social challenges confronted by many Chinese cities under the pressure of rapid development and urbanization. The Cornell team collaborated with international professionals, environmental engineers and students from Tongji University to develop eco-city designs to address these many challenges.

The Cornell team's model offered an urban design scheme that aims at a "regenerative future" and promotes walkability and diversity of human experience, said Daniel Strongwater '11, a design and environmental analysis student on the trip.

"This model, while generated for the specific environmental, economic and social conditions of Huludao, could also serve as a prototype for other cities of China," added Chris Hardy, a landscape architecture graduate student and president of the Design and Planning Group, a Cornell club; four of the five students on the trip are members of the club.

The Cornell team's trip ended with a stop at the Beijing Olympic park, where they were guests for the WWF EarthHour event to witness the lights being turned off at the National Stadium, known as the Bird's Nest, and at the Water Cube, China's gesture to reflect its commitment to behavioral change for climate change mitigation.

Other students on the trip were Rita Kwong and Xiaowei Zhang, both graduate students in city and regional planning.

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Sabina Lee