Reducing the Environmental Impact of Developing Cities

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Asia is home to some of the world’s fastest-growing cities.

Increased urbanization will bring some economic benefits, but it may also accelerate environmental degradation — unless cities pursue sustainable development plans.

CDIA has spent more than 12 years working to minimize environmental impact in Asia Pacific cities. Now that some time has passed, CDIA is able to assess how two of its early projects in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) protected urban water bodies while also increasing livability.

Restoring Simao River in Pu’er

Over the past decade, CDIA supported an extensive river restoration project in Pu’er, a city in China’s Yunnan province with a population of 2 million. The city is known for the traditional pu’er tea fermented in the region.

In 2011, Pu’er’s local government requested CDIA assistance to plan the rehabilitation of the Simao River, a 15-km waterway that runs through the city. The river’s flow was impeded by solid waste and informal settlements on its banks, putting the city at high risk for flooding. Meanwhile, untreated wastewater being pumped into the river deteriorated its water quality.

A CDIA consulting team worked in Pu’er from January to June 2012 to prepare the final design for the Simao River rehabilitation that will achieve the city’s objective of developing the water course into an attractive ecological landmark while eliminating flood risks and improving the water quality of the river. CDIA then helped link the new project to financing from the German Development Bank KfW, and the project construction commenced in 2015.

When a CDIA monitoring team returned to Pu’er in 2018 to track the progress and results of their interventions, the city had completed 85% of work on the project. The team noticed that, as a result of dredging and earth-rock excavation efforts on the river, the city looked set to achieve its goal of a 50-year flood prevention standard. Meanwhile, Pu’er city officials said they believed the river rehabilitation project would serve as a model to other Chinese cities who were integrating flood management measures into their master plans.

CDIA Monitoring & Evaluation Specialist Rudini Baoy led the monitoring team and remarked that the city had followed most of the recommendations from the CDIA study. These included taking a green and ecological development approach by using locally-available construction materials for the new river infrastructure, and restoring the river ecology by re-planting indigenous plant species on the riverbanks.

Mr. Baoy reported that local officials told him that the project had “succeeded in enhancing the city’s environment” due to CDIA’s “introduction of innovative ideas for river restoration.”

The water quality of the river had also improved; residents noted that the river’s fish population had increased and a foul smell coming from the water had disappeared.

The city also resettled 1,600 informal households on the riverbank into planned communities that were “free from the risk of flooding”, said Mr. Baoy.

Preserving Wetlands in Yangzhou

In 2008, CDIA worked on urban upgrading and redevelopment initiatives in Yangzhou, PRC, a city of 5 million at the confluence of the Yangtze River and the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal. Yangzhou’s canal and ancient private gardens that date back to the Tang and Song dynasties make the city one of the country’s top tourist draws.

The Yangzhou city government applied for technical assistance from CDIA as part of its efforts to balance the city’s growth with environmental sustainability. CDIA then sent consulting teams to the city, who worked with the Yangzhou Construction Bureau (YCB) to identify sustainable upgrades for Yangzhou’s “Old Town”, a traditional settlement in the city center.

CDIA consultants and the YCB also developed plans for the 101-hectare ecological conservation, called the San Wan Wetland Park. They intended to utilize the wetland ecosystem on a tributary of the old canal to reduce pollution and improve the water quality in the Ancient Canal, and enhance the environment of the surrounding area.

After the San Wan Wetland Park opened in 2017, a CDIA monitoring team returned to Yangzhou to track the progress and results of their interventions. As planned, the park had a designated recreational green space for sports and recreation, and showcased the integration of nature and agriculture inside an urban environment.

The park also featured a 7.6-hectare ecological core zone with limited public access. By the time the park opened, over 40 bird species had returned to the area.

CDIA’s Senior Development Specialist Zhang Yu spoke with city officials during the tracer study.

“The city gave our PFS report to the engineering company that designed the park,” Ms. Zhang said, “and they followed CDIA’s suggestions in their designs.”

Ms. Zhang, who previously visited Yangzhou in 2011, said she was “astonished” at the difference in the area when she returned six years later.

CDIA’s work continues

Guided and inspired by their experience with their earlier projects, CDIA is continuing their efforts to promote the sustainable development of Asia Pacific cities.

CDIA development specialists are supporting projects related to environmental protection and improvement of quality of life in select cities in Lao PDR and Uzbekistan. They are also currently coordinating with officials in the Vietnamese cities of Bac Kan and Phu Ly on climate change resilience initiatives.

“At CDIA, we prioritize environmental sustainability in all of our work,” says Neil Chadder, CDIA Program Manager. “It’s rewarding to see the long-term impacts of projects we were involved in, and we look forward to helping more cities in Asia Pacific develop sustainably.”



Restoring Simao River in Pu’er

Preserving Wetlands in Yangzhou

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