Going Green: China’s New Forest City
The terrible air pollution that plagues China is no news to anyone - large cities like Beijing are almost constantly overcast by an impenetrable layer of smog. The air quality has declined to the point where parents don’t let their children go outside unless absolutely necessary, and some schools have built enormous air-filtration domes so that the students don’t have to breathe polluted air.
Several years ago, a Chinese performance artist went viral for creating a solid brick from the pollutants he vacuumed out of the air. The project was certainly a bit dramatic, but he had a point. New studies suggest that as many as 1 in 3 deaths in China could be linked to air pollution. In December 2016, the Chinese government was forced to release a “red alert” warning due to the severity of the smog. The air pollution levels were reaching about 500 PM2.5 (particulate matter that have a diameter less than 2.5 microns) particles per cubic meter - the World Health Organization places safe levels at under 25.
Needless to say, the situation is pretty dire- thankfully, the government is working towards change. China has recently revealed their futuristic plans for the Liuzhou Forest City, a new urban neighborhood in southern China that will be made of over 70 buildings - all of which will be covered with thousands of different trees and plants. The city will include not only homes, but office buildings, schools, hotels, and hospitals - all covered in plants.
The abundant greenery is expected to absorb about 10,000 tons of carbon dioxide and 57 tons of pollutants each year. The city’s buildings are to be powered by solar and geothermal energy, creating an environmentally-friendly home for up to 30,000 people, as well as a new ecosystem for small animals and insects. Besides the obvious purpose of fighting air pollution, the Liuzhou Forest City also serves as part of the government’s plan to alleviate rural poverty by moving people from rural villages into cities.
In addition to the Forest City being eco-friendly, it’s also sustainable; as the trees in the city grow older, they will only become more efficient at carbon dioxide absorption and oxygen production. Stefano Boeri, owner of Stefano Boeri Architetti, the Italian architecture firm in charge of the project, says that “(This is) the first experiment of the urban environment that’s really trying to find a balance with nature”. The building of a city usually involves bulldozing acres of trees - this city will intentionally incorporate and rely on them.
This isn’t the first time Boeri has done something like this - the Liuzhou Forest City is inspired by Boeri’s Vertical Forest that he built in Milan in 2014. The Vertical Forest is comprised of two residential towers, covered in about 5 acres of forest - combined, they remove over 15 tons of pollutants from the air each year, which inspired Boeri to try out his project on a much larger scale.
As someone with family living in China, I cannot stress enough the importance of projects like this. The air pollution in China has escalated from a mere annoyance to a critical health threat. While the air crisis in China is significantly more severe than in most countries, air pollution and the resulting climate change are a major concern that every country has to find a way to help fix. The plans for the Liuzhou Forest City, which the Chinese government hopes to have completed by 2020, is an amazing and inventive step in the right direction.