Cleaning our Cities

by Sharon

Air pollution is a growing issue for major cities around the world. China has long had a reputation for being one of the worst places, but is taking measures to improve.

Estimates suggest that more than a million people die from air pollution in China every year. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) it has the world’s deadliest air. The cause; high levels of industrialisation. 

In an effort to “make the skies clear again” Premier Li Keqiang announced a five-year plan to combat the issue in 2016. It included: 

  • Reducing the production of steel and coal fired electricity 
  • Investing in greener technologies including wind and solar capture
  • Introducing car emissions standards similar to those in Europe and the US (by 2020)
  • Encouraging residents to reduce coal use at home
  • Installing sensors throughout the country to monitor and report on air quality

What about construction? 

Architects and urban planners are well placed to provide solutions to pollution, particularly as another source is the scale of urbanisation. China is aiming for 60% of its population to live in urban areas by 2020, and the demands on the construction section will be significant.  

1. Increase efficiency

Planning: masterplans should focus on delivering the right mix of uses at sufficient density. Transit orientated development allows people to live and work closely together reducing the need for cars.

Construction: examples include using prefabricated (and ideally sustainable) materials that can be mass-produced offsite to reduce construction time. Designing flexible buildings means that they can be adapted in the future (read about MET here).

2. Design buildings with appropriate passive and active sustainability functions  

Active: refers to renewable technologies such as solar panels, rainwater harvesting and wind turbines.

Passive: refers to the form and fabric of the building. Includes insulation, solar shading, use of natural light and natural ventilation.

3. Increase green spaces when developing urban plans 

Green buffers: to provide breaks in density and offer opportunities for water management, agriculture, biodiversity and air quality improvements.

Parks and green spaces: walking and cycling spaces support efforts to improve wellbeing. Parks provide healthy places in the city.

Urban farms: inner city areas for growing produce, such as rooftop gardens (read about urban farms here).

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