The City of Hengyang, the second largest city in the Hunan Province, straddles the Xiang River and boasts a thriving community of 7,141,162 citizens covering just over 5,899 square miles of land that still has a significant amount of underdeveloped or pristine land. Hengyang, like most cities in China is faced with the growing need to modernize and expand its economic base, but unlike most cities where this expansion has resulted in serious environmental and economic issues, Hengyang is determined to move forward in an environmentally sound and sustainable manner.
In 2013 the city set aside 6.5 miles of land in the center of their cultural and business districts and held an international design competition. The city asked participants to come up with a city design based on the following eight guiding principles: 1) sustainable transportation; 2) creation of a denser urban network; 3) maintaining cultural heritage; 4) developing new and existing communities; 5) implementing a denser urban life; 6) preserving and enhancing the natural landscape; 7) creating new ecological system using existing water networks; and 8) connecting all these components to the surrounding neighborhoods. Competitors were asked to develop a living strategy that would, when actualized, create a template of a better future for the citizens of Hengyang.
The winner of this planning competition was a joint Danish/Chinese firm called ADEPT. ADEPT presented a project called “Green Loops City”. ADEPT’s ‘Green Loop City’ attempts to link the diverse and unique characteristics of the city, the landscape, water, history and culture, through the creation of public spaces that link together. A cornerstone of the project is the idea of dividing the pilot site into a number of blob-like zones with attendant themes such as sports, business or culture that aligns with the feature of that area. Hence, the Cultural Loop would strive to connect the most important cultural landmarks such as a historic pagoda, temple, or library alongside a new street devoted to restaurants and shops, that would anchor this loop and bring more activity into the area. A Sports Loop would take advantage of the natural river conditions and place more venues for recreation, sports and leisure activities. The Commerce Loop would create new ways of working within the city through the intelligent placement of retail and business establishments that utilize strategic transportation routes which are both convenient and sensible. Existing farmlands, rivers and wetlands would be preserved and integrated into the urban landscape instead of being eradicated.
ADEPT’s winning plan successfully preserved the cultural and natural resources of Hengyang (which are still very much intact in comparison to other Chinese cities) through a comprehensive design that ensures a network of redesigned space that is easy to navigate by car, bicycle or by foot; that retains the unique cultural and historical identity of the community; and integrates modern environmentally friendly practices that positions this city for sustainable growth for future generations to come.
Hengyang is attempting to embrace its future in a thoughtful and forward looking manner. The Green Loop City concept is a vision for the future that preserves the past yet acknowledges the need for thoughtful strategic development. The idea of preserving the cultural and natural landscape isn’t new – the loop city idea probably isn’t either – yet this bold plan shows promise because Hengyang and its leadership is committed to building a better city for its citizens today and for its citizens of tomorrow. May it be so!