City's green experiment

Wenjiang is Chengdu's great experiment in environmental planning. Since 2000, this 277-square-kilometre district to the west of Chengdu has planted 130 square kilometres of greenery, reaching an impressive coverage rate of 48 per cent. The city plans to increase this to more than 50 per cent in the coming years.

One of the major initiatives of the project is the Wenjiang Green Belt, a 150-metre wide, 156km-long corridor that will stretch around the entire city of Chengdu by 2015.

The belt follows the Jinma and Jiang'an Rivers - tributaries of the Min River, which flows south from Dujiangyan - and is one of the city's most beautiful and rejuvenating escapes from the urban bustle.

Today, local residents can rent bicycles at the entrance to the beltway and cycle all day, stopping at small teahouses along the way, and either spend the night at a local bed and breakfast or pedal back. Eventually, one will be able to drop bikes off at set points around the corridor.

The corridor is not only a scenic addition to the city, it is also an important carbon absorption area and an energy saver.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, in the past decade Wenjiang's energy consumption per 10,000 yuan of GDP fell by 43.6 per cent and urban carbon emissions fell by 8.9 per cent, even as the district enjoyed nearly 300 per cent economic growth.

The intensive use of solar energy and large-scale upgrades of the energy infrastructure have helped Chengdu save 160 million kilowatts of electricity and reduce carbon by 159 million kilograms.

The importance placed on greenery and carbon absorption goes back to the locals' affinity for afternoon tea-drinking sessions and general attitude that living is as important as profit.

Chengdu is very ambitious. The garden city concept harks back to 19th- and 20th-century post-industrialist visions for a modern, hi-tech city that was clean, crime-free, yet still beautiful to behold and comfortable for residents.

Chengdu has managed to learn from the mistakes of the past, or fuse together elements of previous garden city philosophies into a plan that incorporates both the need for business to thrive and the desire of the people to enjoy life. Critics would point out that although the plan is sound, the implementation might not match the dreams.

Wenjiang and the green belt are examples of a successful implementation of the garden city concept.

The parks in and around Wenjiang - and all over the metropolis - are full of families, elderly couples and tea-drinking groups of friends, which demonstrates that the public largely approves.