The Charrette of Mr. Xu

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The Design Charrette: Ways to Envision Sustainable Futures, 2014, pp. 295 - 326
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Let’s imagine, in the city of Wan Zhou, in the Western parts of China, another large city is developing at an unimaginable pace. According to the Chinese national governmental planning agency, this prospective metropolis needs to quadruple in size over the next decades. One of the areas the governments had laid its eyes on is Yong-Xin district, some 15 km outside the central city and currently in use as poor agricultural land, farmed by farming families that have lived in the area for thousands of years. Current living circumstances in the area are poor. People eat sided diets and die at relatively young age. The way farming operates in the area emits a high level of carbon due to its predominant use of fossil resources. The area is vulnerable for heat waves, droughts and floods as well as bushfires. The local authorities, in conjunction with a national renowned project developer, have conceived a preliminary design for the area. In this design a series of high-rise apartment buildings are proposed along with compact residential mid-end low-rise buildings. The number of dwellings proposed is 2,500 and are accompanied with schools, a shopping mall, community centres and offices. This high level program will lead to a complete makeover in the area and this came as a surprise to the current inhabitants. They experienced the propositions as a short-term intervention, changing the area from agricultural to urban, without the notice of long-term change, such as the energy provision, climatic impacts and socio-economic developments. Protests rose amongst the current inhabitants of the area and their powerless position was even used by artist Liu Bolin in his work ‘Invisible Man’. This was the reason for Mr. Xu to step up and ask for an adjusted design process in which more space was incorporated for collaborative future visioning, which explores the longer-term desires of the current and future community. The developer, after deliberations with the National government and local authorities, proposed to organise a design charrette, a way of designing a sustainable future for the area together with a larger group of stakeholders. Mr. Xu and his fellow community members were wary at first, but soon they understood the advantages.
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