Energy-saving design: Solar panels evoking a dragon in flight greet visitors to Utopia Garden, an eco-friendly apartment complex in Dezhou, China, that uses coal-fired electricity for more than 90 percent of its power needs, according to USA Today.
At the Mangrove Garden apartments, Du Feng says the property managers handle all green issues, but he pledges to start a car pool to work. He is living in what is a wave of eco-friendly communities being built or planned across China, one of the world's most polluted countries and the leading source of carbon emissions.
China is building more eco-cities designed to be low-carbon and energy-saving than any other country, according to a survey by the University of Westminster in London. The U.S. ranked second.
One of the biggest will be Tianjin Eco-City, a joint development between the Chinese and Singaporean governments that will cover almost 11 square miles of wasteland and salt pans near Tianjin, a major port city southeast of Beijing. More than 1,000 people will move in this year, joining 100 residents. The target is 350,000 residents by 2025, said Liu Wenchuang, a senior construction official.
China's buyers don't appear motivated by environmentalism, real estate professionals say. Saving money and preserving their health look to be the big selling points.
Buyers "care more about price and whether it will reduce their living costs," said Li Lixia, 26, a saleswoman at Wetland Century, a development under construction.
Li's sales pitch stresses Wetland Century's energy savings, its non-toxic building and decorative materials, safe tap water and water-saving toilets.
Just how many eco-cities are in the works and their effectiveness are in question.
In recent years, more than 200 Chinese cities have announced they will build large housing developments that seek to reduce energy use and motor vehicle use and thus the amount of carbon put out by power plants and tailpipes. Some projects have stalled, while others appear to be promotional gimmicks by commercial developers.
Some innovations fizzled, such as the roof gardens suggested by Singapore. They died in the district's polluted soil and windy, dry climate, Liu said. Renewable energy powers just 20 percent of the eco-city's needs, but Liu said Tianjin is working hard to reduce its dependence on coal.
"There are many other cities that plan to copy our example," Liu said. "I'm confident it's not a 'face project' like in some Chinese cities."
Some partnerships are going nowhere. The Shanghai government and British design firm Arup have failed to complete a promised eco-city in Dongtan. The project near Shanghai appears stalled as does Wanzhuang, another Arup eco-city near Beijing.
Housing Vice Minister Qiu Baoxing said the eco-city concept has been overused in China, and some projects actually damaged the environment, reported the state-run Xinhua News Agency. Others failed by their blind adoption of foreign models, Qiu said.
Unlike the government-led Tianjin initiative, Utopia Garden is a private endeavor by the Himin Solar Energy Group.
"We want other developers to see this energy-efficient project is also profitable and then copy it themselves," said Li Guangsen, president of Himin Clean Energy Architecture Planning Institute and Design Institute.
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