The Yellow River is one of the most powerful rivers in the world. Throughout history, the unpredictable river destroyed villages and flooded farmland. Thus the Yellow River has been a physical and psychological barrier to development in Jinan. Although the center of the city sits on an elevated plateau, low-lying lands to the north are part of the Yellow River's vast floodplain. Though close to the city center, these lowlands were overlooked for development as the city sprawled outward. Sasaki's innovative master plan solves the issue of how to protect development by using the landscape to absorb flood waters, allowing for construction of a sustainable new urban district. Sasaki's concept for the Jinan New Urban District is balance—between people and nature, between protecting natural resources and utilizing them for our daily needs, and between building space sold for profit and space that contributes to the wealth of humankind.
Over the past two decades, however, upstream dams have been built, levee systems have been strengthened, and flood diversion areas have been created. The combination of these endeavors has significantly reduced the threat from major floods. In fact, today, the greatest threat to new development isn't from the river, but from man. Overdevelopment has led to increased impervious surfaces and undersized infrastructure that can no longer accommodate monsoonal rains, emphasizing the need to manage stormwater as a critical component to securing Jinan's social, economic, and environmental security.
The plan physically evokes interlocking fingers, which is a fitting symbol for the driving vision of the plan: that urban development and natural systems are given equal importance and are inextricably linked. At any point along each of the fingers, residents are never more than a short walk from the waterfront or major park. This linear form also maximizes the interface between the city and the landscape by providing neighborhoods with views and access to nature, increasing the value of the development.
The innovative plan incorporates several key principles. The first was to protect human life and economic investment from the dangers of a catastrophic flood. Based on detailed study of the site's hydrology, the district's extensive wetland system is designed to accommodate water volume from a 200-year storm. In the event that any of the Yellow River's existing levees fail, the plan ensures that only non-inhabited space will flood, while populated areas remain safe. These wetlands also play an important role in improving water quality and creating habitat, increasing species diversity in the region. Looking beyond its environmental context, another goal was to highlight Jinan's unique history and culture. New facilities include new museums, theaters, and various sports and recreational amenities. To emphasize their importance to the identity of the new district, they occupy highly visible, strategic locations at the tips of the fingers. These civic spaces are also a critical element in the mixed-use development model for the district. The combination of different land uses in close proximity to each other boosts economic output, encourages innovation, and reduces carbon by limiting reliance on the automobile.