Class News

China: New Towns Class 2015

Professor Richard Peiser led a research seminar on new towns at Harvard GSD in the Spring 2015 semester. This seminar is the first phase of a 2 ½-year research project on new towns, sponsored by the China Vanke Co. Vanke is the largest homebuilder in China and has developed a number of large-scale communities and several new towns. The class focused on Vanke’s new towns, as well as other new towns in China, with particular emphasis on new towns in China’s central region, including Wuhan, Zhengzhou, and Chengdu. The class met weekly and included a one-week site visit to China from March 7-14, 2015.

Students examined best practices and innovative solutions to address their research questions based on study of both new towns and other forms of large-scale urban development and redevelopment around the world. While students focused on answering specific research questions, they studied a number of aspects of new town and large-scale community development. These included planning, urban design, economics, phasing, transportation, governance, social organization, and other aspects of creating and building both successful and unsuccessful new towns.

Each student selected one of the topics below as the focus of their research. Students’ research papers addressed the following research questions that are relevant to new town developers everywhere:

  • How to add parking and automobile access to existing communities that were designed for lower car ownership.
  • How to design and build playgrounds, both for children and the elderly, that are safe, attractive, and create the best possible amenity.
  • How to manage and maintain hi-rise and low-rise apartments, including how to apply the U.S. experience of multiple levels of homeowner and condominium associations.
  • How to integrate people from widely different backgrounds in order to create a greater sense of community.
  • How to design and enhance the quality of open space, the built environment, and landscaping.
  • How to improve community management, enhance customer services between the new town developer and the residents, and incorporate lessons from communities in other countries such as the Netherlands, Great Britain, and the U.S. with respect to long-term community management.
  • How to jumpstart social services at the beginning of new town development; how to jumpstart the sense of belonging and community within the new town.
  • How to maintain and enhance property values over time.

The site-visit to China in the spring focused on communities chosen to highlight the questions raised above. It included a cross-section of new towns and large-scale communities developed by Vanke and other major new town developers in China. The class culminated in a presentation at Harvard on May 11, 2015 and a written report that went to the Sponsor and contributors to the class.