The urban situation
China’s rural-urban transformation has happened very fast. The population living in cities has more or less tripled in the space of 40 years. Of the 30+megacities of over 10 million residents in the world, almost half are located in China.
One particular outcome of China’s rapid urbanization is the occurrence of speculatively constructed and relatively slow to be occupied areas that are sometimes called ‘ghost towns’. It should be noted that from the point of view of urban planning this qualification is premature, as well as defeatist. There is nothing to say that in time these places will not come into their own; in fact, there are already examples of metropolitan new districts and subdivisions that have begun to flourish and thrive.
We would like to describe such developments without preconceived judgement as ‘high-density sprawl’. What is remarkable about the new districts is that, unlike the low-rise suburban sprawl that is prominent in for example the US and Australia, these Chinese new developments are high-rise neighborhoods with high density levels. From an ecological perspective, the choice for urban high-rise is often argued to be the preferred one as it occupies a smaller footprint, leaving more area open nature.
What the fast sprung high-rise districts share with low-rise suburbs elsewhere in the world is that they are typically at some remove from the central urban area and consist mainly or solely of residential units. For this competition, we would like to encourage young designers and students to examine these areas, of which there are many all over China. High-density sprawl is an everyday reality of contemporary China – how can we continue and renew the ongoing process of urban transformation in these places in positive ways?
The angle we would like to propose to focus on when it comes to the future of high-density sprawl is healthiness.
Without jumping to any conclusions about cause and effect, it is safe to say that there is a correlation between urban growth and the growth of various human health-related problems. For humans as individuals and for the population at large, maintaining health and preventing illness for as long as possible are the most effective ways to counteract the increasing burden of health care. Not all regions in the world face the same problems when it comes to physical and mental health. But we can assume that all of us would like to feel as healthy as we can.
Growth spurts are naturally experienced as painful. Worldwide, mental health problems occupy a large slice on the spectrum of disorders and diseases. The adaptation to a new urban life is challenging for the planet, its nations, communities and individuals alike. At the same time, the health sciences are making progress at an amazing rate. As designers, this field can potentially offer a wealth of new insights and design solutions to us. Therefore this is what we would like you, as participants in this competition, to take along with you when you ask yourselves the following questions: How can we help people and cities to achieve resilience, and grow in healthy ways? What can you, as architects, urban and landscape designers, imagine and do when it comes to improving health, in particular mental health, in high-density sprawl situations?