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Chengdu strikes healthy balance between green initiatives and an economic boom

City implements environmental protection measures and has formed partnerships with other cities to exchange green ideas, and all while making dizzying economic headway

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 September, 2017, 4:02pm
UPDATED : Monday, 18 September, 2017, 4:02pm

Chengdu has long been at the forefront of China’s quest for a balance between economic progress and environmental protection. Much of that has to do with the fact that Chengdu is far removed from the capital but enjoyed funding from the central government’s Go West campaign established in 2000. The combination of access to funds and relative freedom from central control have allowed the city to become a proving ground for projects and ideas.

Some of those projects have panned out, others have not. The green belt initiative, which began in the early 2000s and continues to this day, has had mixed success. The idea is to create a barrier of trees and parks that will mitigate pollution from factories and traffic, as well as provide space for citizens to enjoy nature.

The west of the city, in particular, was targeted. The Min River flows down from Dujiangyan along the west side of the city, and the districts of Pixian and Wenjiang were slotted for ecotourism development. Along the southeastern edge of the city, a hub for flowers and traditional country restaurants spurred an ecologically-minded district known as Flower Town – a hybrid model for economic development and environmental protection which spread across the city and to other provinces.

Chengdu also formed strong partnerships with cities such as Singapore and Bonn in an effort to foster exchanges and resources that would help spur progress while protecting the city’s green areas.

The cooperation with Bonn was under the rubric of the “Low Carbon City Partnership” that brought European and Chinese cities together with the goal of keeping global temperature rise below the recommended 2 per cent maximum. Partnerships such as these are difficult to sustain through political changes, but Chengdu was proactive in creating non-governmental and business ties, and the results have been an exchange of ideas ranging from strategies to reduce energy and water consumption in their hotels to traffic regulations and zoning policy.

In June, California governor Jerry Brown visited Chengdu with the goal of cooperating on climate change and pollution. His visit reinforces the trend of states and provinces working together when governments in Beijing and Washington grind to a halt on certain topics. Los Angeles has partnerships with Nanjing and Chengdu, and California is working closely with Sichuan province to find solutions to common problems.

The going is slow and never in a completely straight line. Chengdu’s logistical requirements and economic boom constantly refine and influence the city’s stated goal of creating a “Green Chengdu”. Increasingly, Chengdu is looking both abroad and within to find ways to merge the two. Building high-speed rail links to satellite cities such as Dujiangyan and Leshan, for example, fulfil the need to feed the continuing boom, while also stepping back from the traditional car-centric developmental model.

Chengdu benefits from a long-term mindset: goals are often set more than a decade ahead. And this forward-thinking is what ensures Chengdu will continue to make progress towards its goal of a vibrant, wealthy, ecologically healthy green city.