BEIJING (AP) — To cushion the impact of extreme weather due to climate change, a Chinese landscape architect has been making the case for China and other countries to create so-called “sponge cities.”
Yu Kongjian, who spoke to The Associated Press in Beijing, uses sweeping language to express his vision for cities that can withstand variable temperatures, drought and heavy rainfall. The challenges for implementing this vision at a time of ambitious economic development in China are multifold.
Yu criticizes much of Asia’s modern infrastructure for being built on ideas imported from Europe, which he says are ill-fitted to the monsoon climate over much of the Asian continent. He points to recent floods that have wreaked havoc in many Asian cities, which he says are caused by this architectural mismatch.
“There’s no resilience at all,” Yu says of the concrete and steel infrastructure of major cities, and of using pipes and channels to funnel away water. “Those are useless, they will fail and continue to fail.”
Instead, Yu proposes using natural resources, or “green infrastructure” to create water-resilient cities. It's part of a global shift among landscape design and civil engineering professionals toward working more in concert with the natural environment. By creating large spaces to hold water in city centers — such as parks and ponds — stormwater can be retained on site, helping prevent floods, he says. Sponge infrastructure also, in theory, offers ways for water to seep down and recharge groundwater for times of drought.
“The idea of a sponge city is to recover, give water more space,” Yu said.
A turning point in China’s awareness of climate change and urban adaptation came a decade ago, Yu said. A devastating flood hit the capital city of Beijing in July 2012..