Friday, October 7, 2011

Credible Utopias - A New Chinese Development Model


I came across a not so new planning and development strategy being used in China to create communities that can link urban and rural life styles. The architects of this new strategy are New York architect firm Tsao & McKown and  developer IMC Octave, which share a familial link through Calvin Tsao and Frederick Tsao who are brothers. IMC Octave is a large industrial conglomerate that started as a shipping company and now includes off shore drilling, ship building, industrial production and large scale comprehensive development.

Their concept attempts to link agrarian and urban living through new developments the size of most mid-sized cities. The concept papers note that they want their inhabitants to have easy access to all of the developments amenities and resources so that “one might work in a 100 story high rise during the day and then sleep under the stars listening the bleating of chickens after diner”.
Las Colinas, TX

I don’t think this is a new concept in urban planning. Since the turn of the twentieth century, and even before, corporations and politicians have dreamed of creating an ideal mix of urban and rural living in one place. This strategy of master planning entire new cities has not been attempted in the U.S. in more than 30 years (I’m excluding places like Celebration, but including Las Colinas, Texas). But the strategy might work in the highly organized and often authoritative society of China. I’m no expert on Chinese society, but I have to believe that hundreds of bureaucrats will have to approve this enormous undertaking, and staying true to the Tsao brothers concept will be hard to manage.

In the U.S. I also doubt that such a plan would be successful. For one, we don’t have large enough development companies that would be able to control all of the facets of developing a singular urban/rural concept project. We also live in a culture where community input and buy-in are critical to the success of such large scale projects. I’m not saying this as a negative, in fact I would have it no other way. But what would be the benefits of developing an entire city where environmental, employment, housing and recreational uses were all master planned from the beginning? I can only imagine that if the planning was good and no corners were cut, planning an entire city from the start could be a huge success.

In the end I hope that the Tsao brothers are successful. In China where they estimate that at least ten new metropolitan areas the size of New York are needed in the next ten year, the Tsao brothers may be right on target. Their ventures could create communities that are sustainable and useful in many more ways than discussed here. But only time will tell.


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