Amid one of the most rapidly urbanizing places in the world sits a rare patch of green space. It includes Gucheng Lake which, up until now, has dwindled to one-ninth of its original size. Cooperation and ingenuity have come together to transform the area. Organized upon principles of environmental preservation and remediation, the Gucheng Lake master plan creates a destination of beauty and charm that reconnects people to the natural environment, and will serve as a model for sustainable future development throughout China.
With a culture steeped in thousands of years of tradition, a wealth of natural assets, and over 100 million people living within an 250-km radius, the Gucheng Lake area, located 80 km from Nanjing and 317 km from Shanghai, was identified as an area ripe for tourism development at the national level. However, with three ecologically sensitive areas—Gucheng Lake, Hua Mountain, and the surrounding forest—as well as an economy built primarily on crab farming and agriculture, it was critical to create a sustainable plan for the anticipated 100 fold growth of tourism while also protecting and enhancing the area’s culture, ecology, and aquaculture.
As China’s rapid growth continues, it will need examples within its borders of sustainable development. Smart urbanization and cultural preservation will need to interplay with environmental restoration and conservation. For the lake region to be a true regional and national resource, it must operate seamlessly with the transportation infrastructure and find a way to weave its native community into the fabric of the region’s future.
With this in mind, the design team identified five key elements to be addressed within the master plan: ecology, aquaculture and agriculture, community and culture, sports and recreation, and tourism. These elements are distributed among three sites: site 1 acts as a gateway to the lake and an extension of the Old City; site 2 provides cultural and recreational amenities, as well as support for existing aquaculture; and site 3 offers outdoor sporting and ecotourism activities, while preserving existing villages.
Visitors to Gucheng Lake will be able to enjoy the lake from many entry points. The master plan created by Overland and Arup incorporates the existing villages around the lake into a comprehensive system of ecologically and culturally sensitive industries that will draw visitors while sustaining the livelihoods of those in the village.
Destinations like the Organic Food Center, the Botanical Gardens, and the National Fishing Center provide means for learning about the ecology and culture of the region through traditional and experiential education, as well as professional research opportunities. Outdoor activities like hiking, rowing, and mountain biking are integrated throughout the Gucheng Lake area. Local vineyards, fields, markets, and restaurants provide organic, sustainably grown food.
All of this happens around planned pockets of density keeping the ecological disturbance contained. Integrating new technologies will allow local farmers and tourism industries to do more with less—and to do so in a low-impact way. Advanced hydrology solutions will simultaneously restore the lake for aquaculture and allow for tourism and recreation without pollution, a high priority of the client.
The practical, elegant, and sustainable way to service the area involves a multimodal network of bike paths, boats, regional and local rail, and trails. The connection to Nanjing and the rest of the Jiangsu Province allows these best practices in environmental and cultural sustainability to permeate the region and work their way up into development conversations at the highest level. The local government has since banned and shut down many environmentally contaminating factories along the lake’s shores to protect the water resources, and as a result, the county has been honored for its environmental protection and ecosystem—the only county to receive this national honor within the Jiangsu province.