Ciudades verdes, entre el márketing y el romanticismo: Dongtan, ¿un modelo alternativo?

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Dos de las principales lacras, poco reconocidas, del actual desarrollo urbano tienen que ver, de uno u otro modo, con una visión formal de la ciudad entendida como plataforma de márketing político, en lugar de entenderla como un sistema funcional y enormemente complejo. Así nos encontramos con:

  1. una visión romántica de la sostenibilidad, confundiendo forma (“lo verde”) con función (la eficiencia, por ejemplo energética), lo que puede generar consecuencias catastróficas ambientales y en la calidad de vida, y
  2. la aplicación de modelos genéricos al diseño urbano y arquitectónico, independientes de lo local (la geografía, el clima, los estilos de vida, las necesidades y preferencias de los habitantes…) motivada por la globalización de los stararchitects y de la “política del Gugenheim” (que se expande desde Bilbao a Las Vegas).

Jeffrey Inaba (de Inaba Projects, director del C-Lab en la University of Columbia y responsable del SCIFI, the Southern California Institute for Future Initiatives; pero sobre todo uno  de los autores de uno de los más detallados análisis del proceso de urbanización en China, Great Leap Forward: The Harvard Design School Project on the City, y co-editor de la provocadora Volume) explica, en una entrevista con en Bldgblog, como la sostenibilidad se utiliza habitualmente como una forma muy eficiente (y perversa) de márketing para facilitar el desarrollo urbanístico:

BLDGBLOG: Changing tack a bit, in Great Leap Forward, much is made of feng shui, golf courses, and the idea of “politics, geography, and spirituality.” Could you tell me a bit more about your interest in this? I’m particularly drawn to the idea of “bad” feng shui – China’s building boom takes on a whole new meaning in this context.

Inaba: Today, in China, environmentalism – meaning eco-friendly cities – is the expression of “politics, geography, and spirituality.” Branding a development as environmentally friendly is both a marketing tool and a political enabler for even greater development.

Urban development in the name of environmentalism, and in the name of eco-friendly urbanism, could very well become the pretext for doing certain types of development that don’t actually reduce the rate of resource   consumption: they set up conditions for even more rapid consumption, in the name of being politically, geographically, and spiritually sensitive.

Sustainable development is becoming an unquestioned process, embraced as   a positive form of urbanism. It’s being over-used. In that way, it’s producing landscapes of bad feng shui

BLDGBLOG: Sustainability also lends a kind of critical immunity to new building projects – if something’s sustainable, no one wants   to critique it. Being carbon neutral is like being handed an aesthetic Get Out of Jail Free card.

Inaba: That’s exactly it – it’s irreproachable as a moral position. For example, Shenzhen has been criticized for being bad urbanism, based on the grounds of taste; it’s said to be ill-planned, quickly developed, and with poorly designed   buildings. Meanwhile, other cities are deemed to be better examples of urbanism because of their environmental sensitivity – having a low carbon footprint – but, as such, they’re exempt from other criteria of judgment.

One of the main features of eco-friendly design is its predisposition for   suburb-like developments. In order to get large cities to accommodate large populations, in an environmentally sensitive way, why is it that all the   projects result in a default language of green space and detached,   single-family dwellings?

One of the ways that suburbia is emerging in the megacity is through the rhetoric of ecology: an urbanism of eco-friendly villas. It’s like Laguna Niguel. [laughs] Only it’s happening in China.

Pero precisamente en China, empiezan a aparecer otros modelos de desarrollo   que afrontan el reto de la sostenibilidad como una cuestión funcional y no como un componente estético y perverso en sus consecuencias. En el número de   Mayo de la revista Wired, Pop-Up Cities: China Builds a Bright Green Metropolis, se narra la historia   de la futura ciudad de Dongtan. En una isla próxima a Shangai la Shanghai Industrial Investment Corporation (SIIC) quiere construir una nueva ciudad, y el proyecto, tras diversos avatares, ha caído en manos de   Arup. Las idas y venidas del proyecto narran una historia más general, la del paso del romanticismo a la eficiencia:

Today … a team of Arup specialists from Europe, North America, and Asia   are finalizing a plan for a scratch- built metropolis called Dongtan…

Dongtan breaks ground later this year on a plot about the size of Manhattan on Chongming Island. The first condos and commercial space will hit   the market by 2010, around the time a 12-mile bridge and tunnel combo and subway extension will link the city to Shanghai’s new international airport (45 minutes away) and financial district (30 minutes). By 2050, Dongtan will have a half-million residents, more than Miami or Atlanta today.

That may count as a cozy little town in a country of 1.3 billion people. But Dongtan is a dramatic gambit, and not just because a whole city will rise, fully realized, from nothing. With Dongtan, Arup is testing a radical new approach to urban design, one that suggests cities across China and the rest of the developing world can actually get greener as they grow. "Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, SOM, HOK are all doing better or worse design," Gutierrez says, subtly dismissing some of the architecture world’s biggest names (inmcluding at least one that angled for the Dongtan job). "But they’re not   addressing the central problem of this age — resource efficiency — and how it   relates to cultural, social, and economic development."

Este proyecto nace con varios antecedentes problemáticos. Por una parte, la   reciente historia china muestra una relación del maoismo con el medio ambiente cuando menos conflictiva:

Mao Tse-tung believed the natural world was all that stood between   Communist China and its industrial future. His country, he said in a 1940 speech, "must use natural science to understand, conquer, and change nature." And conquer it did. Forests were razed, up to 90 percent of the trees in some   provinces. The government, in a scheme to accelerate steel production, forced Beijing residents to smelt metal in hundreds of thousands of polluting   backyard furnaces. New factories dumped untreated waste into the rivers until they turned a deep, noxious black. When China’s economy began to take off in the 1980s, conditions got worse. Foreign firms put their most toxic manufacturing operations in China. Sudden prosperity, and a rush to boomtowns like Shanghai, drove energy demand well beyond what the grid could provide.   Today, China opens an average of one new coal-fired power plant per week, the   main reason it will pass the US in the next two years as the world’s biggest source of CO2 emissions. Since 2001, China has increased its emissions more than every other industrialized country in the world combined.   

Pero además de estos antecedentes, los primeros diseñadores (casi todos parte   del star-system global) del nuevo Dongtan, antes de la llegada de Arup, visualizaron la futura ciudad como el paradigma del romanticismo verde que, de materializarse, podría haber tenido consecuencias ambientales catastróficas:

Shanghai’s bureaucrats let it be known that Chongming Island must stay green, and SIIC agreed.The developer commissioned a series of ecological studies.Then it invited Philip Johnson, the late icon of American architecture, to design a master plan. SIIC showed Johnson’s staff the site and briefed them on the environmental constraints. For months, designers flew back and forth to the site, making plans for a leafy, low-density garden   suburb built around a huge man-made lake. Finally Johnson’s team arrived in Shanghai to present its plan — and found it was not alone. London-based Atkins and Paris-based Architecture-Studio, both giants in the architecture world, had also created master plans for SIIC. Nobody knew it was going to be a   competition. Dinner afterward was awkward, and none of the proposals went anywhere.

Arup ha afrontado el proyecto con una   actitud totalmente diferente marcándose como objetivo la función y no la forma por si misma:

Arup believes good design can do something about this mess. Dongtan’s   master plan — hundreds of pages of maps, schematics, and data — has almost nothing to say about architectural style. Instead, it outlines the world’s first green city, every block engineered in response to China’s environmental   crisis. It’s like the source code for an urban operating system. "We’re not focused on the form," Gutierrez explains. "We’re focused on the   performance of the form." He and his team imagine a city powered by local,   renewable energy, with superefficient buildings clustered in dense, walkable neighborhoods; a recycling scheme that repurposes 90 percent of all waste; a network of high tech organic farms; and a ban on any vehicle that emits CO2.

Arup rompió radicalmente con el modelo romántico, difuso e ineficiente, buscando la eficiencia en la densidad y la concentración de población. Para estimar las condiciones óptimas recurrió a los métodos objetivos basados en el análisis estadistico de las relaciones entre tamaño, densidad y eficiencia en otras ciudades:

Their first decision was big. Dongtan needed more people. Way more.   Shanghai’s planning bureau figured 50,000 people should live on the site — they assumed a green island should not be crowded — and the other international architects had agreed, drafting Dongtan as an American-style suburb with low-rise condos scattered across the plot and lots of lawns and   parks in between. "It’s all very nice to have little houses in a green field," Gutierrez says. But that would be an environmental disaster. If neighborhoods are spread out, then people need cars to get around. If population is low, then public transportation is a money loser.

But how many more people? Double? Triple? The team found research on   energy consumption in cities around the world, plotted on a curve according to   population density. Up to about 50 residents per acre, roughly equivalent to   Stockholm or Copenhagen, per capita energy use falls fast. People walk and bike more, public transit makes economic sense,   and there are ways to make heating and cooling more efficient. But then the   curve flattens out. Pack in 120 people per acre, like Singapore, or 300 people, like Hong Kong, and the energy savings are negligible. Dongtan, the   team decided, should try to hit that sweet spot around Stockholm.

Next, they had to figure out how high to build. A density rate of 50 people per acre could mean a lot of low buildings, or a handful of   skyscrapers, or something in between. Here, the land made the decision for them. Dongtan’s soil is squishy. Any building taller than about eight stories would need expensive work at the foundation to keep it upright. To give the place some variety and open up paths for summer wind and natural light, they settled on a range of four to eight stories across the city. Then, using CAD software, they started dropping blocks of buildings on the site and counting heads.

The results were startling. They could bump up Dongtan’s population 10 times, to 500,000, and still build on a smaller share of the site than any of the other planners had suggested, leaving 65 percent of the land open for farms, parks, and wildlife habitat. A rough outline of the city, a real eco-city, began to take shape: a reasonably dense urban middle, with smart breaks for green space, all surrounded by farms, parks, and unspoiled wetland. Instead of sprawling out, the city would grow in a line along a public transit corridor.

Pero el proyecto de Arup incluye otro aspecto destacable y que también se   separa del paradigma del desarrollo urbano habitual hoy en día. Han recurrido al conocimiento local, aquel que se encuentra en los diseños y tecnologías que han surgido durante siglos de experiencia en un medio tan particular como el de los grandes ríos chinos. Pero esta ha sido una decisión traumática tras descubrir sobre el terreno que las soluciones chinas para "vivir sobre el agua" eran mejores que las que se podían encontrar en ciudades occidentales como Venecia:

Arup had to figure out how to keep Dongtan above water. Chongming Island is flat and barely higher than sea level. The previous planners, thinking defensively, had pulled development back to the middle of the site, imagining Dongtan as an island city with no harbor, no waterfront caf s, no ocean-view condos. Gutierrez thought that was kind of a waste. "We went back to the site," he recalls, "and, being completely ignorant Westerners, we asked the client, ‘Have you seen Venice?’" Gutierrez had been sketching Venice’s   waterways and floodgates. "They said, very politely, ‘Yeah, we know about Venice,’" Gutierrez recalls, smiling sheepishly. "Then they took us to see these fantastic, beautiful water towns in the Yangtze River Delta that are   much older. They have decks and terraces and promenades that are very close to   the water," Gutierrez says. "In one part of a town, they developed a pond to   control water levels, in another they had a wider canal, in another they developed a lake. They had a much more fine-tuned understanding of how to   manage water than the Italians did."

Inspired by those ancient Chinese water towns, Gutierrez began drawing canals in one zone, ponds in another, and a big lake in a third. He designed courtyards and lawns to drain away from buildings. And he created flood cells within the city, like chambers in a submarine, so if Dongtan got slammed by a once-in-a-century storm, the seawater would stay in a single cell. At the   water’s edge, instead of a high levee, he drew a gentle hill that would recede   into a wide wetland basin — a park, bird habitat, and natural storm barrier.

Para conocer más sobre Dongtan y Arup existen numerosas referencias en la web. Leonardo Maldonado publicó ya hace unos meses un buen resumen del proyecto. Peter Head, el director de Arup para este proyecto (y antes Independent Commissioner on the London Sustainable Development Commission) presento una keynote speech en  el Holcim Forum 2007 Urban Trans_Formation que se acaba de celebrar en Shangai (vía eCuaderno). Su presentación, Urban transformation in the policy context (pdf) donde realiza una escripción detallada del proyecto de Dongtan (acompañado de un video que regresa en cierta forma al romanticismo verde: Experience of five senses; wmv). Por último, en SustainAbility han publicado una entrevista con Peter Head.

5 comentarios en “Ciudades verdes, entre el márketing y el romanticismo: Dongtan, ¿un modelo alternativo?

  1. Ciudades verdes, entre el márketing y el romanticismo: Dongtan, ¿un modelo alternativo?

    Una reflexión sobre otros modelos alternativos de urbanismo, donde lo “verde” o ecológico deja de ser sólo un componente estético e incorpora la funcionalidad.

  2. Hola Dr. Freire:
    Soy un urbanista que trabaja en Latinoamérica – realidad distinta a la de España – . Sin embargo, creo que compartimos una preocupación similar por los problemas ambientales. Me ha correspondido trabajar en zonas de barrios pobres. Mi énfasis es el saneamiento ambiental y la infraestructura sanitaria. Lamentablemente, hubo una tendencia en mi país (Vzla) orientada a soluciones formales y arquitectónicas, más que a las soluciones funcionales, de ingeniería y protección ambiental. Creo que esto ha generado confusión y falsas expectativas en algunas comunidades destinatarias de proyectos de mejoramiento urbano. Sus ideas en este sentido son bastante esclarecedoras, aunque se apliquen en otro contexto. Saludos.

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