Huangbaiyu, Tough Combo of Sustainability + Urbanism

Huangbaiyu China

In January of this year, Frontline/World reporter Timothy Lesle published a three-part, video documentary on Huangbaiyu called "China: Green Dreams – A NOT SO model village."  Here’s a teaser intro to the report: "The village of Huangbaiyu in rural northeast China was supposed to be a model for energy-conscious design.  The initial project was to build 400 sustainable homes, a collaboration between U.S. architect William McDonough and the Chinese.  But something went awry.  [Timothy Lesle] traveled to the region to investigate."  I’m not going to tell the whole story — the series is quite compelling, and Mr. Lesle presents an honest perspective of Chinese urbanization. 

But Huangbaiyu has forced me to think about some of the sustainable cities that I’ve blogged about such as Zorlu, Dongtan, Sanya, and Masdar, etc.  These ecocities look great on paper, the renderings are beautiful, and the plans are innovative.  The question is, however, can we rely on people to live in them, to afford them, and to change if they need to?  Are the plans conservative and/or reasonable enough in their forecasts?  Can everyone contribute what they’ve promised to contribute to make them a success?

Image credit: Popular Science.

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  • Tim Lesle

    Hey Preston,
    Thanks for the highlight on your blog–it’s a great site. I’m glad you liked my story. And you’re right: there are all kinds of questions that pop up with these ambitious, innovative projects.

    Keep up the good work,

  • Preston

    @Tim Lesle – thanks for dropping by and keep in touch if you do similar reporting in the future. I’m not sure how I happened upon the videos, but I really enjoyed watching them.

  • JS

    Preston, excellent find!

    And Tim, fantastic story!

    The central themes you highlighted really resonate with me, and illustrate the divide between the ‘sustainability’ movement and what sustainability really means.

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