Plan of the Month December 2010: Low-carbon urban design for China

New Urban Network

Editor’s note: New Urban Network is beginning a new feature called Plan of the Month. Low-carbon urban design standards for China, along with the specific plan for Chenggong New Town, will be the first of these. To submit a recent urban design plan that would be a Plan of the Month, please send an email to:, with the subject line Plan of the Month.

China’s urban population is projected to grow by 300 million in the next 15 years. The form of this urban growth will shape much of the country’s environmental demands and impacts. Transportation now represents 60 percent of the country’s petroleum consumption, and is a fast-growing sector. As the country’s urban patterns reinforce auto use through more freeways, large arterials, and superblocks, walking, biking, and transit are declining. The China Sustainable Energy Program and The Energy Foundation have taken notice of this ominous trend and enlisted the California-based firm Calthorpe Associates to create a set of urban design standards that would produce low-carbon communities.

A new challenge for China

China’s urban growth will shape much of the country’s environmental demands and impacts. Transportation is a fast-growing sector.  Auto use has increased sixfold since 1986 in Beijing while bike use has been cut almost in half — from nearly 60 percent of all trips to just 30 percent in 2005. The congestion, air quality, and greenhouse gas impacts of such a shift are huge. In addition, injuries to drivers, pedestrians, and bikers are on the rise. Studies in Jinan show that there is a fivefold increase in household vehicle miles traveled (VMT) when a mixed-use street grid neighborhood is compared to a newer single-use superblock configuration.

The new urban design standards for low-carbon communities reinforce transit, walking, and biking without compromising auto flow. Superblocks are replaced with human-scale city grids that disperse traffic as they create comfortable and safe pedestrian crossings. Bikeways are protected and clearly segregated from traffic. Transit stations are reinforced with mixed uses and density. And the street is designed as much for the pedestrian’s convenience and safety as for auto capacity. The synthesis of these “Principles for Low Carbon Communities” results in more livable environments that demand less energy, produce fewer greenhouse gases, and cause less harm.

The design principles outlined in the plan are as follows:

1) Provide walkable streets and human scale blocks to enhance pedestrian flow

2) Configure buildings and uses to support pedestrian safety and convenience

3) Create bike friendly networks to reduce auto dependence

4) Create transit-oriented streets and neighborhoods to enhance ridership

5) Create mixed-use blocks, neighborhoods and districts to increase local destinations

6) Integrate open space and public services at walkable distances

7) Create energy efficient buildings and community systems to reduce carbon emissions

Low-carbon design principles in action

In conjunction with this project, Calthorpe Associates also produced a low-carbon plan for Chenggong, a new town in the Kunming Region. The plan demonstrates how the design standards can be applied to new development in China. The new town will be developed as a complementary economic center to Downtown Kunming and incorporates the proposed Yunnan University, which will serve as a major new center for education, research and related fields, establishing Chenggong as a knowledge base for the entire region.

The site for Chenggong New Town is strategically prime for development, enjoying good access, scenic surroundings, and favorable weather. There are several cultural sites of local and regional importance, along with Dianchi Lake and Longtan Shan, major natural landmarks. Dounan Flower Market in north Chenggong is Asia’s largest flower market. In the near future, the new town will become a major employment hub for the region, with large-scale development of jobs in the Services and Logistics sectors. Yunnan University will establish Chenggong as a knowledge base for the entire region.

A robust transit network consisting of BRT (bus rapid transit) and an underground Metro will help integrate the planned new town with existing and planned areas. An indicator of the future importance of Chenggong New Town is the planned High Speed Rail Hub at Kunyu Rail Station, that will have three high-speed rail lines and an estimated 200,000 passengers using the station each day. There are also indicators to suggest that Chenggong New Town will be the future administrative center for the greater Kunming region.

The new town will have a mix of Urban, Town, and Village Centers that will vary in density and the proportion of residential, commercial and other uses. The nature of a center will be largely determined by its location and ease of access, both by car and by transit. The centers will help to establish an order of higher and lower density areas within the new town. Typically, the centers will have a higher proportion of jobs with surrounding lower-density areas having a more residential character. Distributing key civic and other public functions among the centers will add further to their importance and help in establishing unique identities. Mixing residential and commercial uses within each center ensures that these areas are active both during the day and most of the night, and thus safer than monofunctional zones.

To recreate the intimate scale of streets and spaces found in traditional cities such as Kunming, the superblock has been deconstructed into smaller blocks with a finer grid of narrower streets. As discussed in the Design Principles chapter as well as the Circulation Analysis chapter, the alternate ‘grid’ system proposed (opposed to the standard superblock system) provides tangible benefits for the pedestrian, and improves efficiency for both transit systems and the private automobile.


• Chenggong New Town Planning Area is 160 square kilometers.

• Distance from Downtown Kunming is 15 kilometers (20 minutes)

• 8 Sub-Districts (7 Development Zones and a Lakeside Wetland Zone)

• Planned Population for Chenggong New Town is 1,500,000.

• Nearby towns include Xinjie (10 kilometers), Jiulong (18 kilometers), Kunyang (21 kilometers)

• Yunnan University in the heart of Chenggong New Town will be a major center
for learning with a student population of 150,000.