China’s green urban planning can draw lessons from Portland and Stockholm

By Lili Pike

Out of industrial dust and ashes, the lakeside Hammarby Sjöstad district of Stockholm arose in 1999. Meanwhile, 5,000 miles to the west, the historical Pearl District of Portland, Oregon reawakened. Drawing on detailed case studies on Hammarby and the Pearl District completed under the aegis of China Development Bank Capital’s Green and Smart Guidelines, this article presents the critical lessons the districts’ sustainable development can offer China. 

China reports that a startling 200 eco-city projects are under construction across the country. Challenges facing China’s urban sustainability are legion. Many municipal governments are underfunded and rely on promoting sprawling development for additional revenue, planning practices in China are still largely car-centric, and accountability mechanisms can be weak. 

The Pearl District is a case of redevelopment and with Hammerby, new development. Both projects followed a similar development process: they set early and comprehensive environmental goals, aligned these with developers’ incentives, and created accountability systems to ensure the goals were met. 

Some 15 years after the projects broke ground, the districts’ flourishing economies, excellent environmental records, and vibrant communities prove that sustainability and growth do not have to be mutually exclusive. On the contrary, they can instead be mutually reinforcing.