By: Professor Kongjian Yu, Professor of Urban and Regional Planning, and Founder and Dean of the Graduate School of Landscape Architecture, at Peking University.

‘Building Ecological Chinese Cities: The Need for a Big Foot Revolution’.

China’s urbanisation has its genesis in footbinding, for more than 1,000 years a rite of urban initiation and urbanity for Chinese women. Forcing young girls to bind their feet to become aesthetically appealing to elite men in Chinese cities meant that women’s natural, healthy ‘big’ feet were distorted into unhealthy deformed and citified small feet, seriously limiting women’s capability but considered to be ‘beautiful’. Thus a highly privileged class sacrificed ‘function’ in pursuit of ornamental value.

‘Little Foot’ urbanisation today sees the natural endowment of cities laced with dams and water management systems, fancy flowers replacing ‘messy’ local flora, and domestic animals harming local fauna. The whole city is ornamental and cosmetic while bearing the burdens of water shortage, air pollution, global warming, massive waste of land and natural resources, and loss of cultural identity. Yet even though ‘Little Foot’ urbanism is a path to destruction, it is sought by most of the world’s people. In China, millions of people are urbanised each year, and as Chinese adopt the ‘American Jumbo Dream’ of jumbo cars, houses, and other buildings, no wonder the consequences: two thirds of China’s cities suffer water shortage and three quarters of the nation’s surface water is polluted.

This paper urges a ‘Big Foot Revolution’ through ecological urbanism — an ecologically sensitive approach to urban planning — to provide a badly needed alternative to the present development mode and offer guidance for sustainable cities in the future.

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