After Milan, New York and London, we decided to head to the Far East, to find out how the cities are changing in this part of the world. We discovered that the national government plan for the Chinese territory and the Shanghai Master Plan have already been working on the concept of proximity for several years, as well as on defining new neighbourhood communities. The urban interventions are integrating two reference models: the 15-Minute City and the Smart City. The settlements that are about to be created, together with the existing ones, need to be able to welcome and exploit the full potentials of the most advanced digital technologies. Work is being done to mitigate the effect of road traffic, which still has a huge impact in the area, by creating slow mobility, pedestrian and cycle paths, to service the districts of the Chinese mega-city.
I The 15-Minute City is transforming China
The idea of the “15-minute city”, defined by scientist Carlos Moreno, which became the driving force behind the development of cities such as Paris and Milan, was welcomed in China as a founding value of the national territorial planning.
Since March 2018, the new planning system in place in China has supported the development of pedestrian areas and people-friendly public spaces.
The cities that have undergone intense modernization processes, such as Shanghai, have already adopted plans inspired by the idea of the 15-minute city. The Shanghai Urban Master Plan (2015-2040) defines the principles and settlement patterns for community life as one of the key objectives of the overall development of the city.
“Better City, Better Life” is the motto of this Master Plan, which will guide the city planning development of Shanghai in the years to come. The intention is to create a city that is not only sustainable and resilient, but also inclusive and attractive. The plan confirms the development of the identity of the mega-city in three directions: a place of innovation, in which research, development and private enterprise will meet and complement one another; a cultural, attractive “humanistic” city, and a sustainable, pleasant, healthy “eco-city”.
II Work on neighbourhood communities
has been ongoing since 2016
The "Shanghai Community Planning Guidelines”, the guidelines of the Shanghai Urban Masterplan, have defined the planning of the 15-minute neighborhood since back in August 2016. In addition to urban planning principles, the guide provides reference parameters for the community structures and spaces for the elderly, children, families and workers.
The document indicates the types of healthcare, education, library services, the leisure spaces and recreational facilities for the elderly that can be rapidly reached within the urban district. The guidelines confirm that the public governance must make the planning system clear and in line with the new principles – and share it with the citizens. This way, it will become a shared, virtuous model that also supports all the interventions regarding urban redevelopment and the recovery of disused areas taking place in the Chinese city.
III Proximity and digital intelligence,
principles acquired by the design
Yichun Xu, associate director of the Chapman Taylor studio in Shanghai, has reiterated this on various occasions: In China, the principles of the 15-Minute City have inspired the design of the master plans in many of the cities in rapid expansion for several years now.
“We think”, confirms Yichun Xu, “that the principles of proximity can also be very successfully adapted to fit the Responsible Design mission of our design company, integrating the themes of social, environmental and economic sustainability, in favor of better conditions of well-being for the inhabitants of the new urban areas.” However, the real evolutionary step is the one taken towards designs that are technologically advanced, yet sustainable at the same time. In the many master plans developed by the international company - for the Xiong’an area in the Chinese province of Hebei, and for the Zangang and Xiongdong districts -, the study worked on a regeneration concept that promotes and develops the value of the environment and the existing features, sustaining the choices made with digital solutions and systems, in both the design and executive phases.
Yichun Xu concludes, “Both concepts, 15-Minute City and Smart City, have been strongly promoted by the Chinese government and so it makes sense for urban planning initiatives to take them into account for the next few years. A strong trend that envisages the digital city integrating and corresponding perfectly with the physical city is now emerging in China and this theme is already widespread in the country’s design culture.”
IV Many kilometres of new cycle paths in the city
The world’s big cities are tackling the healthiness and quality of life found within their boundaries with different development models. But these have one thing in common: slow mobility, on two wheels. Shanghai, a city with one of the heaviest road traffic flows in the world, is creating an extensive circuit of cycle paths, through its Shanghai Urban Master Plan (2015-2040), and 25-year vision.
The Chinese city began building new cycle paths a few years ago. One example is the Shanghai Riverside Promenade, partly designed by the landscape design studio Agence Ter, which runs for almost fifty kilometres on both sides of the river Huangpu, spanning five urban districts. The cycle path is immersed in a linear park where visitors can practise many sports, but also stop in bars and restaurants along the way. An ideal location for seeing the city of Shanghai, with its many tall buildings, and for taking a stroll at the end of the day to admire the skyline at dusk. The second symbolic location of the Chinese city’s rebirth, according to the new canons of sustainability, is the reconversion of Longhua Airport, on the banks of the river Xuhui, based on a design by international studio Sasaki. Up until about ten years ago, it used to be a landing strip almost two kilometres long, but it is now a park with over 2,200 trees, 82 species of plants, an extensive series of cycle paths integrated with the city, a play park and an area for bird-watching.
V Vending Systems and e-commerce rethink the retail world
In China, vending machines became increasingly popular during the health emergency of the last year, further boosting consumers’ appreciation of a sales channel that was already a favourite in this part of the world.
In the age of social distancing and close focus on hygiene, the popularity of vending machines has risen, as the consumer increasingly believes that the products they sell are the safest and most reliable in terms of hygiene and integrity. And also because the range of products sold in them has expanded to include goods with a social value. Some brands in China have realised that this technology could have saved its proximity distribution.
In one of the most successful concept stores in Shanghai – that of the fashion brand ENG – this new distribution method has become one of the biggest elements of attraction.
In this large space, custom-designed for the Generation Z of digital natives, extensive silver, white and electric blue surfaces hosting holographic projections reign supreme. There is also a series of automatic vending machines, always available, which enable customers to buy accessories and trainers all day long.
The supermarkets that form part of the Alibaba and Zhongbai groups, which are all already fitted with an automatic check-out system, avoiding long queues and contact with the till operator, have also opened an automatic store inside the Huoshenshan hospital in Wuhan. Thanks to the wide range of products available, from food to disinfectant, the market has become one of the go-to stores for purchases in the city.
Country Garden, one of the major Chinese property developers, has donated a number of hot meal distributors to the city of Wuhan, placing them outdoors and in easily accessible locations. These unique points of sale, a cross between an automatic distributor and a street food van, are capable of making 36 dishes in 15 minutes, and have been used to provide hot meals free of charge to self-isolating doctors and citizens.
Based on the Amazon Go model, the pick-up points of the orders placed on several e-commerce websites have multiplied. One of these is Meituan, one of the largest food delivery platforms in China, which has implemented its “contactless delivery” service in 184 Chinese cities. Customers can pick up their meals in the smart lockers spread throughout the city, so avoiding gatherings and queues at the supermarkets, as well as any direct contact with the courier. And digital platforms are also enabling the distribution of products to rural and remote areas of China. In the areas located very far from the big cities, where the cost of living is lower, people are particularly inclined to buy online. Pinduoduo is the first e-commerce app to target this market segment and its sales volumes have already exceeded those of rival giant Alibaba, to become the most popular platform in China.