By Analyn Rubenecia and Chenzi Yiyang
Preserving cultural heritage while upgrading urban areas can be a challenging task for cities. The Cities Development Initiative for Asia (CDIA) supported the city of Yangzhou in designing its urban renewable project with an integrated approach. This puts Yangzhou on the right track toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
Having been settled well over 2,000 years ago, Yangzhou City in the People’s Republic of China is not short on history and culture. Located in and around the city are the oldest canals in China, historical sites dating back to the Tang and Song Dynasties, and manmade landscapes and natural scenery that attract millions of tourists every year.
However, . The city has not been able to come up with sufficient public funding to upgrade its outdated public infrastructure or restore the deteriorating housing stock in the city’s old town, leading most of its younger and wealthier residents to move out and leave behind the decaying urban centre. In 2009, it was estimated that 30 to 40% of the old town’s residents belonged to low-income groups. The city’s attempts to revitalize the area through private investments had likewise failed as investors found it more profitable to build new developments rather than engage in urban renewal.
A further issue that the city faces is the water pollution caused by the industries located along the ancient canal in its urban centre. Here, the city has responded with a water rehabilitation project that seeks to improve water quality, and redevelop and repurpose these areas.
Seeking approaches to boost urban regeneration and reduce water pollution
To help the city develop more effective, integrated solutions to these challenges, CDIA supported the Yangzhou Construction Bureau in preparing pre-feasibility studies for development projects, and assisted it in linking these projects to finance. This work has focused on three projects in particular:
- Preservation of the city’s old town – For this project, CDIA recommended strategies for financing small-scale development and upgrading as modern housing and commercial activities were introduced in the prime location of the old city centre. It proposed that some of the profits from development efforts be used to upgrade existing housing stock and infrastructure. Following CDIA’s intervention, the old town preservation project was also linked to a loan provided by the China Development Bank.
- Development of the San Wan Wetland Park – This project provided an integrated solution for relocation, water clean-up, and redevelopment in the area within the context of Yangzhou’s overall development plan to upgrade its ancient canal system. The project explored 1) approaches to secure sufficient interest from the private sector for the redevelopment project, such as the transfer of user rights, and 2) options for sharing the financing of the clean-up between the public and private sectors. Following CDIA’s intervention, the San Wan Wetland Park project was picked up by private investors under a public-private partnership model. This led the project to have an estimated investment value of $375 million.
- Completion of the water treatment plant – The project sought to install a new water treatment plant to provide better water quality to people living in the expansion areas of the city. As the central government’s large stimulus package for infrastructure spending solved the city’s short-term financing issue before the CDIA study was completed, the project was implemented with only limited CDIA assistance. The plant now supplies the water to around 800,000 residents.
Integrated solutions increase quality of life in Yangzhou
Nine years later, CDIA has seen significant progress toward implementing the first two projects. Factors underpinning the success of the initiatives included the introduction of and revisions to existing legal and policy frameworks to guide urban upgrading and redevelopment initiative, the establishment of appropriate institutional mechanisms, the use of local knowledge in the detailed planning of urban upgrading and heritage projects, the public’s increased awareness of the importance of preserving the city’s heritage and their participation in the government’s efforts, and sustained financial support from the municipal government.
As a result of the project to upgrade the old town, the Dongguan Street area has become an attraction for both residents and tourists, who are drawn by its well-preserved historical architecture, lively street culture and range of activities.
The project has likewise helped to raise the quality of life for people in the old city centre by ushering in major improvements to public infrastructure there. Also underway since 2016 is the renovation of the historical Wang Lumen building and the restoration of its gardens according to their original structure. Once the work is completed, the building will take on a new lease of life as a museum to showcase the history of salt trading in Yangzhou.
“Integrating open spaces into the old city’s redevelopment and adopting participatory planning approaches are just two examples of good practices that CDIA introduced us to,” said Yangzhou Construction Bureau Deputy Director Xue Bin Kuan.
The integrated government-and-residents initiative has resulted in long-term benefits for the city’s cultural preservation programme, while at the same time effectively meeting the needs of the people in the city’s old town.
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“I’ve lived here now for 70 years. Our house was renovated according to its original structure. The floor is still the same old rock floor that is traditional here. To make my life easier, they added a small kitchen and washroom,” attested Wu De Chang, one of the beneficiaries of the old town preservation project.
“Since the old town was regenerated, more and more culture-based shops have opened in the area, and these attract tourists. That’s made it much easier for me to run my business here,” said Tang Jing Hong, the owner of a shop on Dongguan Street whose business has flourished following the project to upgrade the Old Town.
The second development project has also succeeded in raising quality of life in the city. San Wan Wetland Park, a former industrial waste site, has been cleaned up and turned into a park for the public’s enjoyment. CDIA’s assistance was instrumental in several ways here – for example in integrating green spaces, nature and agriculture within the urban environment and in creating an ecological core zone with restricted public access.
The park now attracts about 10,000 visitors per week, mostly nearby residents, for activities such as walking along the promenade, bird watching and use of sports facilities. The increased ecological value of the wetland is also reflected in the sighting of 40 species of bird that have returned to the park since the city’s conservation efforts began. While the second phase of the park project has yet to be completed, the residents are already benefiting from this new recreational space and natural environment within the city. Sustainable business opportunities will soon be offered as part of the next phase of development.
Lessons from Yangzhou for progress on the SDGs and urban wellbeing
enticed by the attractive sites and activities both places offer.
The city’s initiatives have also allowed the city of Yangzhou to make clear progress towards achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, specifically SDG 11 Target 4, which aims to “strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage,” and Target 7, which aims to “provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, particularly for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities.”
In the case of Yangzhou, it is clear that designing integrated solutions with two or more components to address different policy challenges can create significant synergy effects and prove very effective. The Chinese city is also an example for how innovative models that combine public and private finance can spur progress toward urban renewal and greater wellbeing.