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2021 Special Mention in the Infrastructure category:
Redefine Our Homeland – Guangzhou Ecological Belt Master Plan and Implementation

Guangzhou, a city in southern China that grew up with water and got its prosperity from water, has been known as “City of Water”. With a network of 1368 rivers and a mainstream extending 5092 kilometers, water has been manifesting itself to the nature of Guangzhou for two thousand years. However, thirty years of tremendous urbanization process is gradually reshaping the relationship between water and the city. This unconstrained development pace continuously brings challenges like water pollution, channelization of embankments, encroachment of wildlife habitats, and lowering of flood control capacities. Both the city’s valuable ecological settings and rich history are often ignored by manufactured landscape that covers the real identity of the city itself. Starting from 2019, Guangzhou launched the Ecological Belt Planning project to cast a comprehensive solution based on ecological restoration, resiliency, and revitalization of the waterfront. Started from the survey and evaluation of all the waterlines, 2000 kilometers of water corridor is selected as the pilot project to build a blue-green network and a 15-year long term plan is generated.

Through the lens of water system planning, we are redefining the river and the homeland to human and natural assets from the beginning. This master plan is constructing a future-based blue-green infrastructure network that speaks to the legacy and the future of the system. It helps the city to build a protective infrastructure that cushions the urban edge. It is an ambition to reconnect nature, society and the city, aiming at bringing fish back to the spawning ground, bringing birds back to lands that occupied by the city, and brining life back to the waterfront. With a multiplicity of activities arranged, the waterfront which used to be encroached and separated by urban development will be rehabilitated to create a continuous outdoor living room. Villages along the upstream that were shrinking have been revitalized and residents are coming back. We are also exploring an inclusive framework that guided by the government, collaborated by enterprises, and engaged by the public. This helps the plan draw unprecedented public attention. A series of publications and technical guidance have been released and collaborations with experts and international firms are active. This plan provides a new paradigm to global metropolitans that adaptively responding to the changing climate and is a step forward to build a network that implements all these guiding principles: connectivity, biodiversity, resiliency, cultural vitality, and comprehensive management.

Process Narrative:

China has made great progress in the rapid urbanization process in the past thirty years. However, unconstrained consumption of resources has brought severe problems to the environment, especially toward water. In Guangzhou contaminated river accounts for 44% of the total, among which 197 rivers have been seriously polluted, 44% has flooding risk, nearly 70% has been channelized, and 13.8 million square of waterfront spaces were encroached. The transformation from high-speed development to high-quality development requires us to reexam water values from different perspectives and explore a comprehensive strategy to reconnect rivers with city, and bring life back to waterfront through contamination remediation, ecological restoration, infrastructure construction and urban redevelopment.

In 2019 Guangzhou started the planning for a thousand kilometer’s ecological belt. Guided by the government, this project has made a survey and evaluation of 1368 rivers and more than 5000 kilometers of waterlines. 2000 kilometers of water corridor is selected for future restoration plan. It aims to create a blue-green infrastructure network that shows a coherence and connectivity of urban and rural areas, mountains and sea.

The project starts from a construction sustainability assessment of the total 1368 rivers and creeks in Guangzhou. To find out which river has outstanding ecological values, higher capacity for public activities, higher socio-economic values, and suitable for construction, five factors are included, which are ecological bottom line, waterfront reachability, user activity, public service, and resource distribution. 439 rivers that extends about 2000 kilometers have been selected. To better understand these rivers’ ecological values and pressures, a sensitivity evaluation model is made from six aspects: water quality, aquatic biodiversity, aquatic ecological pressure, land area landscape patterns, land area ecological function, and land area ecological pressure. Based on the result, three strategies are proposed to restore the nature, rebuild the urban edge, and revitalize the waterfront.

Restore the nature: In a vision to provide wild life habitat, we propose to protect 42 source water, construct 22 bird corridors, restore 16 bird habitats, protect 8 kinds of important waterfowls, dismantle 10 small and medium hydropower plants and dams, construct 16 technical fish ladders and some mimic-nature fish passes, and restore 15 fish migration biospheres. For 59 riverine islands in the major rivers, three restoration and development degrees are set to build island chains that can resonate toward nature, coexist with city, and shared by the public. A total of 34 pieces and 280 acres of natural reserves and urban parks are planned to form a 2000 kilometer blue-green infrastructure network.

Rebuild the urban edge: The city needs a protective infrastructure that cushions the urban edge. So we propose to dismantle 3.7 millions of informal constructions to give land back to the nature. A set of estuary wetlands, mangrove habitats, storm-water management infrastructures have been built. The project takes full use of waterfront grey space and turns it into both a recreational space and a flood risk prevention space that can periodically get inundated. Measures like dredging, sewage interception, rainwater and sewage separation are used to treat 197 malodorous black water. 183 kilometers of main river embankment is constructed to make sure the city can meet the 200-year flood control requirement. 5 major wind corridors and 6 wind sub-corridors are designed to reduce urban heat island effect and treat urban air pollution, which can add to the city’s resilience level to respond to global warming and related disasters.

Revitalize the waterfront: With entertainments, sports, educative activities, cultural activities, and creative functions arranged, the waterfront which used to be ignored can be fully used to create a public urban edge that identify a coherence and continuity with urban life. A multiplicity of experiences could be expressed through connecting 200 water edge resources like traditional village, cultural heritage, large scale public buildings, characteristic towns, historical towns, urban parks. 9 recreational trails that extends 584 kilometers are created to connect four kinds of industrial districts and 48 waterfront spaces that have productive value, cultural value, and ecological value. To create waterfront that is active, diverse, and beneficial to regional coordinated development, waterfront activities like excursion boating, kayaking, and dragon boating are arranged in this waterfront business strip that extends 373 kilometers to bring residents back to water.

In the implementation process of ecological green belt planning, we have explored a new way of public engagement which not only gain this project with unprecedented public attention, but also financial support from both government and private. A series of publications and technical guidance have been released and international collaborations with experts and well-known firms have been active. Starting in 2019, Guangzhou has followed a step-by-step approach, piloted in one year, five years to build a network, and planed to complete in 15 years. It has been gradually promoting the construction of 2000 kilometers of green belt, which can play a positive role in the improvement of urban ecology, realizing of environmental quality, and development of waterfront.

Design Firms and Collaborators: Guangzhou Urban Planning & Design Survey Research Institute, Guangzhou Water Authority, Guangzhou Water Ecological Construction Center

The Landscape Design Team and Consultants: Xingdong Deng, Feng Hu, Jing Fan, Qianhong Xuan, Xiaochun Peng, Wenling Zhu, Zixi Shen, Zhifei Fei, Ruocan Fu, Rui Yao, Guangfeng Yu, Huiyu Zi, Benyue Lin, Guoyu Zhu, Lin Long, Qingzhi Deng, Xiaoxiao Zhang, Pairan Xie, Yiming Fu, Yang Cai, Zhibing Chen, Wei Liu, Min Yang, Qiyun Xie, Nan Zou, Cheng Luo.

Project location: City of Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, China

Design year: 2019-2020

Year Built: Short term from 2019 to 2025, long term to 2035

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