Can we bring Pixar’s Magic into sustainable Chinese urban development?

Kunming Regional Growth Plan, taken from Planning Cities for People

The China Sustainable Energy Program (中国可持续能源项目)published a report outlining 8 guidelines needed to plan for sustainable cities in China. Much of these guidelines come out of a need to manage a growing urban population in an era of growing automobile congestion, energy insecurity, and rising environmental problems. Thus, the report suggests creating “low-carbon, eco cities” through prioritizing public transport, walking, and bicycling in order to slow, what increasingly is becoming the gridlocked, polluted, and resource-intensive Chinese city.

8 major guidelines include:

  • Developing neighborhoods that promote walking
  • Prioritize bicycle networks
  • Create dense networks of streets and paths
  • Support high quality transit
  • Zone for mixed-use neighborhoods
  • Match density to transit capacity
  • Create compact regions with short commutes
  • Increase mobility by regulating parking and road use

Using these guidelines, I wonder if:

There is a way to model/visualize cities based on their unique characteristics. How can we transfer this experience for people to understand what it is like to live in this sort of city?

From Pixar’s “Brave”

Can we bring Pixar’s Magic into sustainable Chinese urban development? 

I bring up this question since these categories often seem very generic, jargon-ish, and it’s hard for people to relate to these categories without a special attachment to the categories. As I mentioned in the disease of urban planning, Pixar is able to engage a wide audience of people because it tells poignant stories people can relate to.

How can participatory urban design / planning do this? This is going to be one of the biggest challenges in Chinese cities as people attempt to adapt to a fast-changing society among a un-transparent political process. This political process makes more of the recent actions taken by the Chinese government very difficult to accept, such as seen in Chinese ghost cities or destruction of Chinese urban villages at the expense of the many migrant workers.

I believe a valid dialogue and design process is necessary in order to articulate and hash this out; however, the con of this is that the planning process significantly slows down with the addition of stakeholders. In China, things are planned much more quickly than in the United States.

In the United States, sometimes these public meetings aren’t even productive. 

In addition, what does participatory planning really entail? Even this term must be defined. Does this mean bringing everybody into a public meeting and discussing a development/project? Or does it mean we should be transparent about what we exactly do, and create opportunities for people to be involved when possible?

What does when possible mean? Ordinary citizens don’t have the time and share only one perspective in the physical planning process. They can’t be the direct physical planners. Similarly, planners don’t necessary live through the day to day struggles of the people who live in the city, but their expertise is in managing the different aspects of a city.

In other words, participatory planning really is the process of visualizing and engaging people’s actual experience in the city into the physical planning process such that a city becomes used by people who will actually use the city.

We really have the challenge of creating the tools needed to implement participatory urban planning.

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