Rebuilding Green in the Wake of Disaster

The May 12th earthquake in Sichuan province, China was completely devastating. In some towns near the epicenter, 80 percent of structures were destroyed.

With more than 5.5 million people left homeless and many more displaced, there is a huge urgency to create new living spaces and get people working again. Dramatic proposals for solutions to this huge challenge range from building entirely new cities in safer locations to relocating millions of refugees to other provinces.There is, however, a cautionary note for such massive urban projects that do not take into account an integrated picture of what the post-disaster communities will need.

Faced with the challenge of finding real, lasting solutions that will help Sichuan's recovery and create long-term prosperity, China has a huge opportunity to take an integrated approach to redevelopment.

As TreeHugger reported two weeks ago, NGOs across China are already working to help devastated towns meet their pressing needs with green construction. Some of the most inspiring designs use readily available materials (like bamboo) and well-known techniques to create sturdy, cost-effective structures.

Going forward, however, these many efforts could be unified into a a broader, long-term plan that helps the affected communities do the most with limited resources.

China has already demonstrated its ability to envision entirely new cities. The China-U.S. Partnership for Sustainable Development is currently working to transform several urban cores into living systems that will process waste water, leverage opportunities for renewable energy, and create new green spaces for public use. Even more ambitious projects, like the energy-creating development on Dongtan island off of Shanghai demonstrate the country's willingness to pursue sustainable development on a large scale.

One way to ensure an integrated approach to redevelopment in Schiuan might be to follow the UN's recently created Melbourne Principles. With the right leadership, this framework could bring together much of the important work being done to rebuild Sichuan green.

No doubt, there would be barriers.

Local corruption was part of the reason why many of Sichuan's buildings were not built to standards. If unchecked, that same corruption could stymie sustainable redevelopment, as well.

Financial resources may also be a hindrance. Despite the outpouring of aid, some of the quake's victims were among China's poorest classes, scarcely able to fund fancy green building projects.

As many case studies have shown, however, sustainable development needn't cost more than business-as-usual designs -- especially if planning takes whole systems into account and programs are designed to meet multiple needs. Curitiba, Brazil is a long-standing example of how a city in the developing world can prosper with cost-effective integrated planning.

While Sichuan province has very real challenges ahead, strong leadership and integrated planning could lead the region to a much greener future.

Image credit::Tsinghua University, China's First Low-Energy Demo Building Founded in Tsinghua

Tags: China

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