As contemporary cities grow, a common issue around the world is how to repurpose agricultural land and resources for urban development. With social, economic, and ecological implications, this topic is an even greater concern in China as cities rapidly expand due to the growth of the country's already enormous population. A significant shift in how we think about the relationship between cities and farms is long overdue. Sasaki's master plan for Songzhuang offers a revolutionary vision for how urbanity and agriculture can be integrated to enhance the relationship between people and the land, creating new economic opportunities.
Conventional development patterns dictate that agriculture is located at the periphery of the city. Located on the outskirts of Beijing, Songzhuang's distance from Beijing's urban core allows for the formation of a new paradigm of development where traditional relationships of city, open space, and farmland are reconfigured. The master plan for Songzhuang envisions a series of self-sustaining communities that are designed to encourage creative pursuits, offer a high quality of living, and integrate with larger regional open space and hydrological systems. Sasaki's plan inverts the traditional pattern. Development forms the periphery of the city and the farmlands within allow for a diversity of edge conditions that foster interaction with the urban fabric. This strategy creates a balance of development and open space that ultimately facilitates a higher quality of life through self-sustenance and new economic opportunities based on research and the scientific advancement of agricultural products and processes.
The planned communities that make up the urban form of the district are organized into a series of clusters that follow a familiar structural system: catalytic land uses organized around a primary public space and augmented by a series of programs that facilitate living, working, and recreation. Interconnectivity among clusters is supported by a dedicated transit system, an integrated technology network, and a series of pedestrian and bike pathway—each helping to facilitate synergies and the exchange of ideas between the different clusters. This connectivity is a critical component of the innovation process that will fuel the creative economy of Songzhuang.
Another important element is the seamless integration of the existing Songzhuang Artist Village and its current cultural array of museums, art galleries, studios, and innovative residential typologies that are already thriving on the site. Similarly, existing villages currently engaged in farming and other industrial operations are incorporated into the new plan, rehousing residents within the district rather than displacing them to remote sites that are disconnected from current social networks. By providing housing within the clusters and access to training institutes without disrupting existing social networks, inhabitants are slowly integrated into new communities with the choice of continuing to earn a living from with their current skillset within the new agriculture system, or transitioning into new industries.
In a country where farmland is being lost in the name of development at an alarming rate, and where nearly one-sixth of existing arable land suffers from soil pollution, it is imperative that future growth seriously consider food security as a priority. The master plan for Songzhuang offers a model approach which shows that agriculture can coexist with development, as well as help to generate new economic opportunities.