The notion that you can clean up China was given hope at the recent Dutch Days 2015 Shanghai event. Sustainable design and Smart Cities in China were among the topics of discussion along with the question whether the cost of sustainable design actually adds value for developers embarking on projects. Representatives from the Shanghai Green Building Council, NITA Design Group, Shanghai Pudong Urban Planning Institute, the Consul General of the Netherlands and others shared possible solutions and barriers around the table. Three interesting concepts were explored: 1. Urbanising rural areas 2. Adding nature into cities and 3. Corporate social responsibility V’s brand protection.
China is facing a downturn of economic development due to production moving to other Asian countries such as Laos and Myanmar and a downturn of real estate investment. The Chinese government wants to encourage entrepreneurship with technology focussed start-up companies to help shift the downturn as well as investment in rural areas where labour is cheaper. Australian born Dr Anthony Johnson, Director of the Creative Centre at NITA kindly offered some realism to the fact that whilst the world is still operating in ‘competition mode’, there may be too many risks for foreign companies to feel enticed to invest in rural areas. Regardless, it was agreed that new concepts such as sustainable models should be used in rural areas and that random urbanisation of rural areas is dangerous. And this is where foreign design companies can offer expertise. The other added challenge is that the smaller cities do not wish to spend money on designing and sustainability as the Government leaders see this as a added extra, “and not really needed”. Anthony also added that the Chinese have actually done very well to have achieved in 40 years what it had taken the Western World 200 years of Industrial Revolution, with the only real big problem that the Chinese have not learnt from the Westerner’s mistakes, particularly on sustainability and environmental management issues.
As the salaries of the average rural workers are rising in China, people prefer to stay farming on their own land and be empowered. And as the people in the major cities in China are becoming more aware of pollution, their affluence is leading them to the greener pastures of the rural areas. In fact, if you visit Yunnan Province in southwest China you will see for yourself just how much local tourism has hit the streets. So why don’t we bring nature to the city? Technologies are already starting to be employed to clean up brownfields in cities and localising food production may also be the key. If you visit China, you will notice the increase of electric bikes, solar panels and rubbish bins making for greener cities. But there is still a long way to go and without the engagement of our next generation in the green debate we may not make it.
The biggest concern for the youth is that there is no escaping the marketing of blind consumerism in China with massive screens on buildings, on the back of chairs in taxis and advertisements even popping up on electronic whiteboards in schools. Foreign brands such as Guess, Nike, Addidas, Channel, Coke-a-cola and pretty much any other brand you can think of market foreign faces to the Chinese population, implanting the idea into the Chinese subconscious that they are not good enough as themselves. For the next generation, these companies will have to start employing some corporate social responsibility beyond tokenistic funding of community sporting events to get us all out of the pollution mess. On the flip side, Chinese young people are more switched on than you may think. They understand what is going on. When I recently asked them why foreign faces were used all the time in marketing campaigns the response was that if a foreigner says that a product is good, then it is more trusted (by the Chinese) than if a Chinese person says it’s good. What do you think?
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