China’s green pop-up city

Douglas McGray in Wired:

Chine_2 Three years ago, Alejandro Gutierrez got a strange and tantalizing message from Hong Kong. Some McKinsey consultants were putting together a business plan for a big client that wanted to build a small city on the outskirts of Shanghai. But the land, at the marshy eastern tip of a massive, mostly undeveloped island at the mouth of the Yangtze River, was a migratory stop for one of the rarest birds in the world — the black-faced spoonbill, a gangly white creature with a long, flat beak.

McKinsey wanted to know if the developer, the Shanghai Industrial Investment Corporation, could bring businesses to the island without messing up thet bird habitat. The consultants thought Gutierrez’s firm could figure it out. Gutierrez, an architect and urban designer for engineering and design giant Arup, didn’t know anything about birds. But he was a veteran of several big-city design projects in his native Chile and something of a young star at Arup’s London headquarters. The scope of the idea awed him. A whole new city? Were they serious? More important, could Arup get in on it? He quickly caught a flight to Shanghai.

Today Gutierrez and a team of Arup specialists from Europe, North America, and Asia are finalizing a plan for a scratch- built metropolis called Dongtan. Anywhere else in the world, it would have been a thought exercise, done up pretty for a design book or a museum show. But Shanghai’s economy is growing three times faster than the US economy did at the height of the dotcom boom. More than 2,000 high-rises have gone up within city limits in the past decade. The city’s most famous stretch of skyline, including the jewel-box-like Jin Mao Tower and the purple rocket-shaped Pearl TV Tower, was a rice paddy just 20 years ago. Now some 130 million people live within a two and a half hour drive of downtown. Even the wild ideas get built here.

More here.