An interview with Bingrong Shan

An interview with an architect and urban planner Bingrong Shan.

Besides teaching architectural design, landscape design, and urban planning courses, he also work on projects in those fields for Sanya University (Hainan province, China) and real estate developers. Bingrong Shan was one of the designers who developed the urban design plan for Shenzhen after the year 1980, when it was designated a Special Economic Zone.

What is urban planning? What does it mean in China?

General definition of urban planning is that, it is the blueprint for a city’s development within a period of time. During practice there are two sets of people working in this field. One group consist of planners working for the government as administrators. They manage planning, developing projects and law appliance. The other set consist of those ones, who actually do the planning and design work. They do all of the plans and blueprints.

And why is urban planning and design important?

Urban planning is important because it is probably the best way to ensure that urban space grow in an elderly maner. Without urban planning, a city may develop a chaotic pattern.

How does urban planning impacts society?

Urban planning has a tremendous impact on society in general. I was on a business trip in Shenzhen few days ago. 30 years ago, when I went there for the first time, it was a small city with a population of maybe a hundred thousand people. Now it’s a huge metropolitan city with a population of several millions people. In just 30 years it has developed from a small coastal village to an international metropolis. In the 1980s I was working as a planner for the China Academy of Urban Planning and Design, which did the masterplan for Shenzhen. This plan helped develop Shenzhen to a big city. Nowadays it’s totally different than it was 30 years ago. So that’s an example of a huge impact. The best part of it all is that the people, who lived in this area before the city was built and also thousands of people from other areas, have great benefits. They have a better life, they have more income. Of course with every development there is a negative side which can cause environmental pollution, air pollution, damage to the ecosystem. So whenever we do planning we need to balance two sides – development and preservation of the natural environment.

So what kind of solutions can be used in order to make cities more sustainable and friendly for the natural environment?

When you build a city you need to cut down trees and sometimes use a piece of land where there may be forest, wetland or grassland so there is always some negative impact on the environment. What we do as planners is we try to make that impact as small as possible. Also with a good design, we try to incorporate some sustainable solutions and technologies. For example, we can design vertical gardens on the rooftops or walls, we can rebuild or reuse some wasted lands to plant more trees and by that restore the natural process of the ecosystem.

You were also working in the USA. Can you tell me how different from Western countries is urban planning and spatial design in China?

It can be seen as two aspects – process and results. First of all the urban planning process in China is more of a government driven process, where government plays the leading role and has a strong hand on a direction of the development. Moreover, developers are also really important in deciding the particular form of the cities. In China there is a little citizen participation in this process and as a

result urban planning and urban design is more of a government agencies and the real estate developers role. Whereas in western countries urban planning process involves stakeholders, government or government agencies, planning institutions and citizens. The process is expensive and requires a lot of public hearings, which are usually held by planning commissions for different cities. The results of it all will be different than in China. As you can see here, if the government decides to do something, it can do it quickly and efficiently. In western countries the same decision requires a lot of time, discussion, negotiation and compromise in order to reach an agreement to develop a project. So when you look at western cities, they do not seem to change over last ten, twenty or even 30 years, but here in China, every city will be different after an equivalent period of time.

The interview was commissioned by, author: Maria Prusakowska