“I feel we can take a little credit for the bluer sky of Beijing”, says Mark Ryberg, Manager of International Projects at Sweco, while looking out the windows of a hotel’s restaurant. It is a clear June morning in Beijing.
Mark came to Beijing fifteen years ago, with the idea of expanding Sweco’s market in China, after having been responsible for Sweco’s business in Southern Sweden.
In regard to exporting Swedish engineering technology to China, professional opinions are very different. Due to the gap between Swedish standards and the reality of projects in China, some argue that it is not the right time to enter the Chinese market, and that doing so might contribute to environmental damage. Others, arguing from a social perspective, believe in the value of making small progress, especially in a fast-growing country like China.
Mark belongs to the latter. Since then, he has been actively expanding the Chinese market for Sweco together with Master in planning and landscape Peter Krigström, trying to make progress with down-to-earth goals for every project.
Shanghai Luodian New Town (2002-2004)
Started in 2002, Shanghai Luodian New Town project is a milestone for Sweco’s implementation of Nordic designs in China. It is part of the “One City, Nine Towns” project of Shanghai municipality, which covers a 12 sqkm planning zone and a 3.8 sqkm core zone, expected to carry a population of 30,000. The features of Luodian New Town include:
• A structure created on the concept of sustainable development
• Architectural and environmental features of Nordic towns integrated in a modern Chinese setting
• Nordic factors reflected in the landscape architecture
Officers of Baoshan District went to Sigtuna, and was impressed by the harmony. Their appreciation was expressed in the planning of Luodian New town – there is, for instance, a “Meilan Lake” corresponding to Lake Mälaren.
Inevitably, some of the suggestions on sustainability such as energy, water treatment, and waste treatment were not adopted by the client (the city of Shanghai and Shanghai Real Estate Ltd.). Nevertheless, it was a good start for Sweco’s sustainable planning in China.
Tangshan Caofeidian Project (2008-2009)
The Chinese government is putting more and more emphasis on overall city development, due to the increasing influence of urban planning on climate and environment. The Caofeidian Project is a bilateral effort of Sweden and China.
“It supports the overall vision of the city to be a world-renowned, modern, people-focused, prosperous, climate-neutral and environmentally sustainable society”, says Ulf Ranhagen, chief planning designer and Project Leader of Sweco’s commission.
The Caofeidian Project is the first in China to apply a Swedish Eco-City interpretation – the ‘SymbioCity’ concept, based on research by Ranhagen and other experts. Hammarby Sjöstad in Stockholm was treated as a benchmark for the project:
“Caofeidian’s Eco-Cycle Model includes a proposal for integrated handling of energy, waste and water. A key advantage of this model is the option of using upgraded biogas from waste water sludge and organic waste as a vehicle fuel.”
In order to scientifically plan the new municipal system, experts, planners landscape architects and architects from different fields came together to realise the coordination and integration. Caofeidian Eco-City has become a role model for Chinese eco-city planning; World Architecture (a well-known bilingual architecture journal in China) even published a special issue about it in 2009.
The Sustainability Center is a landmark within the Eco-City, presenting the concept and the technological details of the design to the public. The architecture itself is developed with various aspects of sustainability in mind. From features and functions to interior and landscape design, everything is planned to be energy-saving and environmentally friendly: energy efficient ventilation and cooling systems; boreholes used for seasonal energy storage regulating heating and cooling at a competitive cost; Automatic Waste Collection (AWC) systems, small scale solar and wind power, and so on.
Themes of the Eco-City
The Eco-City has nine themes, each of which corresponds to a few indicators and target levels. For example, under the theme of ‘Accessible city’, walking, bicycling and public transportation are prioritized. Corresponding indicators include ‘walking distance from all entrances to local public transportation system’, ‘walking distance from entrances to urban nodes’ and ‘share of travel by private cars in relation to all local transports’, with target levels such as ’bus stops within 300m of 90 percent of all homes and workplaces’, ‘bus stops within 800m of 100 percent of all homes and workplaces’, and ‘less than 10 percent travel by private cars’. A total number of 30 key indicators and 141 complete indicators are chosen. The indicator system has become a template for similar projects in China.
Opportunities and Challenges in the future
Though successful in many aspects, Caofeidian did not grow as fast as expected due to economic fluctuations. This brought obstacles to the Eco-City project as well.
How can the prospects of a project in China be accurately estimated? And how can the best match be found between Swedish expertise in sustainable planning and the actual social and cultural status? These are two crucial questions that continue to be relevant to Swedish enterprises entering the Chinese market.
The article was published in October 2015