History lessons: Bingzhou New Town in Xiamen preserves the past to build for the future
Developers are taking an environmentally and socially conscious approach, aiming to incorporate the area’s natural and cultural features with newly built infrastructure
A new type of urbanisation is being carried out in the Tongan district of Xiamen. Called Bingzhou New Town, the new development seeks to incorporate the existing natural and cultural features with newly built infrastructure and amenities, providing a more authentic, unique experience for residents and visitors alike.
Bingzhou Island is a four-kilometre-long verdant wedge that sits in the northeast of Xiamen, where Tongan Bay and three rivers come together. For centuries, this island was the domain of small fishing villages that lived off the surrounding environment.
The new town is to be a resort and leisure-oriented development, which consists of a revitalised waterfront, a water park, a marina, parks and other green space, cultural areas, as well as a monorail system holding it all together.
Unlike many other urbanisation initiatives in China, the existing villages will be integrated into the design, becoming something that adds to the allure of the destination rather than something standing in the way of progress.
“Bingzhou Island, being one of the potentially distinctive elements [of Xiamen], has one of the deeper and recognisable cultural resources, which is the historic town and fishing village,” says Chris Fannin, the director of planning of HOK, the firm which master-planned the new development. “It was more or less intact, so how could you incorporate this historic and well-functioning village into a broader tourist offering that would bring people into contact with the things that are being lost through development?”
Off the island, a short hop over a bridge away, is a more conventional mixed-use cluster, which will include the usual assortment of residential high-rises and office buildings. The strategy is that this section will keep the island from becoming overdeveloped while still providing it with a population base that can support it economically.
For the past two decades of China’s unprecedented urbanisation boom, the typical model of development was to tear everything down, create a blank slate of empty lots, and build up again from scratch.
Bingzhou New Town shows that another type of development is not only possible but is the way forward as China enters a new era of more environmentally and socially conscious urbanisation.
“[Due to] the progressive detachment from the land that urbanising societies have, we feel even more strongly that the opportunity to preserve those [historic sites] are really important,” Fannin says. “It’s about maintaining that connective tissue to your history. Not every project has this opportunity.”