Chengdu, China: Blending technology with nature to meet human needs

Cities around the world are increasingly focused on adding green spaces to promote environmental sustainability and improve their citizens’ quality of life. But some cities like Chengdu, China are pushing their ambitions to a higher level by blending technology, economic development, and sustainability. 

With its “park city” plan, Chengdu, a city of 20 million located in southwestern China, also wants to become world famous for being a city within a park, instead of building parks within the city.  

Chengdu sees its future as a metropolis that considers the natural environment in all aspects of life. Since its launch in 2018, its park city initiative has aimed to sustainably improve Chengdu’s urban layout, environmental protection, and industrial development. Rather than simply creating green spaces and parks in an urban setting, Chengdu intends to generate a new type of development model based on a balance between environmental sustainability and economic growth, while improving the living quality of residents.  

Fostering a greener economy

To advance towards this goal, in 2019 the Chengdu municipality established the Bureau of Park City Construction and Management to lead planning of the initiative. Already, between parks, gardens, and other protected areas, green zones cover 43.5% of the city. 

Yet while urban beautification is certainly a main objective of the park city initiative, another is to foster a greener economy. The plan is designed to strengthen innovation-driven green industries, develop a clean and efficient green resource system, revamp traditional industrial models for rural revitalization, and develop new business models based on the environment. For example, Chengdu developed the Tianfu Greenway, which spans 4,000 kilometers and is intended to eventually reach over 16,000 kilometers. The city has also advocated for low-carbon lifestyles and has built a green mobility network.  

Taking nature to brand-new cities 

Chengdu is taking its vision for the future even further by developing a new satellite city. Like many metropolises in China, Chengdu is struggling with an overgrowth of population. To address this, government officials are investing in the creation of new cities, located next to large urban centers, that can welcome millions of people. The Chengdu Future Science and Technology City will be positioned as a hub for innovative international universities and companies to build a world-class sustainable science center.  

In February 2021, OMA, an international architectural firm, and Germany-based GMP Architects were selected as the winners of the Chengdu Future Science and Technology City Masterplan and Design competition. The plan is divided into three stages, with the initial stage expected to be completed in 2025 and full completion slated for 2050. The total area of the future science city is expected to reach 362 square kilometers.  

The new city will include five major academic centers: three major universities and two research spaces. Officials are accelerating the promotion of the city’s industrial development, and by the end of 2022, they estimate that they will have chalked up 62 projects with a total investment of 123.3 billion yuan. 

Building around nature 

A main goal of the Chengdu Future Science and Technology City is to create a city that doesn’t destroy natural spaces but is instead developed around it. The new city will be home to industry and technology centers as well as nature preserves to combine urban spaces with the pastoral beauty of the countryside. Located in a small rural zone near the Tianfu International Airport, Chengdu Future City will rise in the middle of a valley. Fully embodying the concept of a park city, digital plans show most of the buildings surrounded by green areas and rooftops with gardens. Architects also plan to build large park areas throughout the city.  

Another important goal is to make the city free of cars, to encourage sustainable mobility and public transportation. All buildings in the initial phase of construction will be accessible by foot within 10 minutes and a network of autonomous vehicles will connect residents to surrounding cities. Indeed, already in Chengdu citizens can ride in AI-enabled autonomous vehicles and buses, ordered via a mobile app. 

Other new cities rising  

Chengdu Future City is not the first satellite city being developed next to large Chinese urban areas and will certainly not be the last. As the national government projects that over 1 billion people will be living in cities by 2035, China will have to continue to look for solutions to reduce the burden of rapid urbanization.  

In 2017, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the creation of Xiong’an, a 38-square-kilometer area located to the southeast of Beijing. Much like Chengdu, the new city’s pillars are economic development, technology, and sustainability. Another example is in the province of Shenzhen, where Net City is being built. Focused on renewable energy, this urban center’s energy is entirely supplied by solar panels.