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Garden cities international

China garden cities delegation

In November 2014, David Ames of the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation visited China as part of a delegation showcasing garden cities

David AmesIn November 2014 I travelled to China on a trip funded by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office to showcase garden cities in support of their work on encouraging low-carbon development. We visited Chengdu, a metropolis of 14 million people, which is planning a satellite town along garden city lines.
Chengdu looks like many other world cities: a chaotic mix of traffic, people and neon-lit shops. But its density is strikingly high, with rows of skyscrapers. The scale and pace of Chinese urbanisation is pretty much unprecedented anywhere in the world.
We were there partly to showcase Letchworth Garden City in an exhibition on UK Modern Green Cities, with a display outlining the history of the garden city movement and its international influence, alongside the RTPI and the Town and Country Planning Association.
I also sat on two panels at the Modern Garden Cities forum, with Chinese and British firms, planners, architects, academics and politicians. Wolfson Prize-winner David Rudlin of Urbed was a fellow panellist. New RTPI president Janet Askew gave a scene-setting speech.

"The scale and pace of Chinese urbanisation is pretty much unprecedented aywhere in the world"

Zhu Xiaowen, deputy inspector of Chengdu Development and Reform Commission, said: “There is enormous pressure for growth so we really want to learn from our overseas partners so we can implement sustainable development, which is the aim worldwide.” I told the audience that global interest lies behind our decision to launch the International Garden Cities Institute this month, to showcase best practice in garden city design.
The next day we drove to the outskirts of town to visit an impressive exhibition showing the plans for Tianfu New Area, a town for two million people outside Chengdu. The scale and ambition are incredible, with plans for enterprise zones covering science, aviation, IT and agriculture; 13 residential zones, and major infrastructure including metro lines and a central park inspired by New York’s.
It is slated for construction in a 15-year timeframe. 
That evening we went to Sichuan University for a lecture on 21st-century garden cities with Janet Askew and David Rudlin. Students asked a series of challenging questions, revealing a detailed knowledge of Letchworth and a desire to understand how key garden city principles could be applied in China. Zhou Yong, vice-dean of the Building and Environment Department at Sichuan University, gave a moving introduction, outlining the problems the nation faces with congestion. He said: “The garden city delegation from the UK are like a beacon giving us hope and light.” 
David Ames is head of heritage and strategic planning at Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation


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