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Shenzhen Embraces a Monaco Sized City

Tencent the technology giant has unveiled plans for a vehicle free “city of the future”, the city, which is supposedly as big as Monaco will be situated in the Chinese metropolis of Shenzhen. The 2-million-square-meter (22-million-square-foot) urban development will prioritize pedestrians, green spaces and self-driving vehicles, according to its designers.

Although primarily for Tencent’s use, many of the spaces and facilities will be accessible to the public. Credit: NBBJ

The ambitious and breath-taking city is being constructed on a stretch of reclaimed land jutting out into the Pearl River estuary. The city, which is supposed to house 80,000 people will primarily serve Tencent, the technological marvel behind WeChat and QQ messaging services. The locality will host a series of luxurious shops, schools and other public amenities while being directly connected to Shenzhen. The American firm that planned the development, NBBJ, hopes the new district’s entertainment venues, parks and waterside promenade will attract visitors from elsewhere in the city.

The master plan prioritizes pedestrians, with limited access to conventional vehicles. Credit: NBBJ

As such, the plan differs from the enclosed campuses pioneered by big tech companies in recent years, according to Jonathan Ward, a design partner at NBBJ.

“It’s definitely a destination (and has) a civic component,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s not meant to be an isolated, secure island — it’s a vibrant city. People will walk through it, they’ll connect … and it will be a vital hub for Shenzhen.”

Eliminating the car

NBBj, had to work with an unusually large vacant plot in order to ensure that vehicles were limited within the city. “Our main goal was to provide a place where innovation can really flourish,” Ward explained. “To do that, we tried to minimize the impact of the car as much as possible.

“Going ‘car-free’ is still a little bit challenging in our world, so we spent a lot of time designing the city to be as low-impact as possible, removing (cars from) where they don’t need to be and focusing on people.”

The master plan prioritizes pedestrians, with limited access to conventional vehicles. Credit: NBBJ

Despite vehicles being permitted within the city limits the plan centers around a “green corridor’” designed for buses, bikes and autonomous vehicles. The layout eliminates what Ward called “unnecessary” traffic.

“You don’t need one block surrounded by roads — you can maybe have eight blocks surrounded by a road, and take away all the ones in between,” he said. “We’ve been ‘subtracting’ roads in places where we think it’s perfectly fine for people to walk two minutes longer from a subway or a (taxi) drop-off.

“And, in those two minutes, you might see something inspiring, connect to nature or meet a colleague you haven’t seen for a while — all those things you can see happening in a workplace environment can happen in the city.”


Interconnected planning

NBBJ’s concept for the city involves integrating the city with Shenzhen under wider urban fabric designed to offer an “interconnected, human-focused organic ecosystem.” For Tencent employees, this may mean eroding the distinction between their work and private lives — an idea that has become all the more relevant in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, Ward said.

“Traditional cities are very much siloed, even in the densest cities where there’s more interaction and intermixing,” he added. “But what can happen now is you can start to blur those lines (between work and play), and bring more interaction between different parts of life.

“You’re seeing more blurring of those lines, for better or for worse. But I think we can make it for the better as we tune this model going forward,” he added.

The plan also focuses on environmental sustainability with rooftop solar panels and elaborate systems for capturing and reusing wastewater. The planners also focused on projections for future sea-level surges and billowing, which could impact buildings.

Transport systems will connect the “city-within-a-city” to the rest of Shenzhen. Credit: NBBJ

Tencent isn’t the only private company looking to create its own miniature city.

Carmaker Toyota unveiled plans for the 175-acre “Woven City” in the foothills of Mount Fuji, where it will test autonomous vehicles, smart technology and robot-assisted living. In Toronto, Canada, Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Alphabet, planned to transform a stretch waterfront into a futuristic new neighbourhood, before it cancelled the project citing “economic uncertainty” caused by Covid-19.

The first phase of a new business district called Shenzhen Bay Headquarters City, also being built on reclaimed land, is expected to complete by 2022.

Tencent’s Net City will take around seven years to complete, with construction expected to commence later this year. The dozens of individual buildings, which will range from one to 30 floors in height, will be designed by a variety of different architecture firms.

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