‘Greening’ Beijing

I’ll admit, it’s been a while since I got excited about something going on in Beijing. But I think this is a good idea, full stop. I wish I got to say that more often. Here’s the skinny:

The Beijing municipal government has already announced plans to improve the quality of the city’s air by covering 100,000 sq m of roofs with greenery by the end of this year. “Plants and water have been proven to be one of the most effective measures to degrade and dilute PM2.5,” says Tan Tianying, president of Beijing Green Roof Association.

Plus, as you can see from the image I stole from the China Daily, it also looks good. And if the government is serious about it, it certainly has the resources to implement it on a scale and with a speed that could make green roofs a new trademark of Beijing. It could clear up the air and make many sections of our fair city look a bit less oppressively Soviet. It’s win-win. In fact, about the only thing I dislike about this plan is that green is not a verb.

But, alas, there are some issues with this plan that are not grammatical:

Alas, he’s not wrong. Seemingly by most accounts, China (and the rest of the world) are heading towards serious water shortages and Beijing is such a dry city that an awful lot of water would have to be pumped up to the roofs to maintain gardens for any period of time.

Still, there’s got to be a way to do this. Personally, I’d be willing to cut down on my water consumption by doing things like washing clothes less if the tradeoff was a cooler Beijing with cleaner air and more trees to look at. So here’s hoping this goes well and the government can find some way to expand it without destroying Hebei or making the consumption of water illegal.

My apologies for the lack of updates of late. I’ve been quite busy with work and the film, and most of what’s been going on in Chinese politics has been covered so well and so quickly elsewhere that I haven’t much to add, anyway. Most of my Chinese internet-type reporting is now going to Tech in Asia. That said, I will try to keep this site updated more frequently!

0 thoughts on “‘Greening’ Beijing”

  1. There are a lot of things that can be done to save water, but until the Capital-ists deal with it more openly and directly, the problem will continue to escalate. Much water is wasted in the home, and there are some simple things that you can do to help. Keep a bucket in the shower to catch the cold water while you’re waiting for it to get hot (or ‘warm’ enough to stand it as the case often is in our building), then use the bucket for at least a few toilet flushes. Waiting for hot water in the kitchen? Keep a couple of pitchers close by, fill them and use the water for humidifiers or plants. And don’t leave the water running while brushing teeth or washing hands. Turn it on only when you need it. So much water goes uselessly down the drain. When you, literally, have to carry your own water (not as in Shaun Rein’s relationship with the CCP), as many folks in the countryside still do, you learn not to waste it. I am constantly appalled by the amount of water lost to the drain in Beijing. If there were real Communists left, rather than the Lei Feng Resurrection Dogs, there’d be an aggressive public campaign addressing what is northern China’s biggest and barely spoken problem. This place was never meant to carry 20+ million people. No mystery here. The imminent water shortage will do to this part of China what the ‘barbarians’ from the north did to it so many times in the past. Get out while you still can!


  2. ” Green roof”, it is as romantic as a fairy tale. How much money you need to put into it? How to pump the water onto it? How to maintain it in winter time? I happened to live in Beijing for a long time. In winter, it is very dry and cold. I am wondering even if the ” green roof” can survive summer given China has an iron ” central government” and loads of money in the Central Bank, can it also greens Beijing in winter?


  3. @ ht: Sure it’d be expensive, but the government has the money for it if it really wants to do this…and if trees can live in Beijing on the ground, I’m pretty sure they could survive a winter on roofs just as easily.


  4. There’s also an interesting compromise with this plan: green roof, or solar roof. I don’t know how prevalent solar panels and solar heaters are in beijing but it’ll be tricky to have both at the same time 🙂


  5. As always, things are done better in China’s other ‘Jing’ – Nanjing’s streets are liberally lined with trees which makes for a much nicer atmosphere. But then it does have the Yangtse right next to it.


  6. @cephaloless: yeah there’s a fair number of solar heaters at least in my area. But probably could mount all those on one side (east or west, presumably) and then cover the rest of the roof with trees without causing too much trouble


  7. Not all plants require the same amount of water or care. The trick seems to be deciding what is climate appropriate to survive the existing conditions while still maximizing carbon absorption. Should winter still prove problematic the committed rooftop garden politicians can advocate for (temporary) greenhouse installation which carries the added benefit of some job creation.

    The bigger problem is that people need water too. One doesn’t need to disqualify the other but the perception would probably be negative if folks are dealing with water shortages while the government is hoisting gardens onto rooftops.

    A lot of attention in hippie/urbanist circles has been paid to sophisticated hydroponic arrangements which facilitate both plant growth and water purity for human consumption. The most obvious issue being these do require a particular amount of weight (pools of water, fish, plants, assorted muck…) and not all roofs will be able to handle it. It will also require more money and labor, but considering the growing problems with natural resources and what seems like China’s desire to deal with terrible pollution it might catch on.

    Probably depends on how slick the informational pamphlets look.


  8. As a thrice failed Beijing rooftop gardner, I can confirm that water and wind are the issues. At the height of last summer, I was watering twice a day, even with sub-irrigation and plastic ground cover. The wind is a huge issue, too. Big gusts of wind would regularly knock over pots, snap branches and strip leaves.

    I learned pretty quickly that rooftop gardening is a different ball game from growing stuff on the ground. Plants on the ground have the advantage of much deeper root systems, their soil doesn’t dry out as nearly quick and buildings shield them from a fair bit of the wind.


  9. How about just building cleaner factories to reduce air particles? Or less factories?

    Once again, modern society tries to patch a problem rather than fix it.


  10. Other than being greener, this could affect the Zeitgeist of the city; people could be psychologically influenced by this, in a positive way. Beijing do need a better branding strategy. Branding does not only works on perceptions, but it can also change people’s behavior. Right now it has the reputation of being grey, polluted and dry (and “living in Beijing is like smoking a 2 packs a day”)… but it is true that there is a water-supply problem linked to the project.


  11. The wastes of water is leaking pipes; can be fixed by replacing old pipes; agriculture wasting water; can be fixed by going organic and use permaculture, car washing; should be illegal. We use hardy species of sedum that can survive without water for up to 3 months after rooting properly in a special growing.
    With the right irrigation a green roof of 666m2 needs about 10m3 of drip irrigated water per month in summer. Average water consumption of a Beijinger is 300m3. So with a little bit a sense and math most arguments above do not hold.


  12. This is definitely good news, but as mentionned , the water supply is a big problem I guess. As FOARP already pointed out, Nanjing is doing a better job…I totally agree :=) Nanjing has a lot of green spots in the city and a really nice lake as well..and let’s not forget the yangtse :=) So hopefully in the future Nanjing will again be the capital in China (Nanjing used to be the capital in ming dynasty for instance).


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