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The great cities of East Asia, such as Tokyo, Shanghai and Seoul are mature in terms of development and offer little scope for major environmental planning. But within the smaller cities around them exists room for improvement. The port cities of Layonko, near Shanghai, Kaoshang in Taiwan and Yokohama are cities where environmental planning is taking place. These cities are striving for an ideal: sustainable development, limited pollution, sound waste disposal/management systems and a decent quality of life. Their renewed emphasis on a healthier environment can serve as a model for other cities around the world.

In planning model port-cities such as Layonko, China looks both backward and forward. Its agenda emphasizes environmentally sound economic development. Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping provided the real momentum toward modernization and market-opening, and coupled these goals with the slogan “to get rich is glorious.” The resulting economic boom and major population movement from the hinterland to the urban centers placed sound urban planning in jeopardy.

In a single-party hierarchical political system such as China’s, where there is little established legal order, a centralized bureaucracy plays a dominant role. For China, therefore, achieving environmentally minded city-planning means beginning from the very basics, such as education and human-resource development, administrative decentralization, infrastructure planning and changes in the tax system to give more funding to local governments. A major challenge for environmental planning in China is the harmonization of planning strategies at all levels — local and central, urban and rural, provincial and regional and above all, economic and political. With China emerging as a colossal economic power, environmental planning in China is as critical for the rest of Asia as it is for the Chinese.

Taiwan, an economic powerhouse, is planning its own model of sustainable development. It is committed to an orbicular system of development, and is moving toward an ideal ecosystem that ensures a high quality of life. The foundation of this plan involves a shift from heavy industry toward service and information sectors.Taiwan is focused on responsible city management, avoidance of environmentally destructive practices and preservation of history. The creation of a sustainable environment could, however, be compromised by a focus on vertical planning that may prove acutely disturbing to ecosystems. There seems, as well, little scope for citizens’ participation in ecosystem planning and little vigilance to ensure the existence of a qualitative planning strategy.Yokohama sought to rebuild itself from the devastation of World War II by replicating some of the experiences of Western Europe, but added some of its own city-planning strategies. Unlike the cases of China and Taiwan, population growth in Yokohama has reached the saturation point and there appears to be no need to undertake new infrastructure projects.

However, there exists a problem between development goals and the ideal of environmental protection. To meet the former end, Yokohama’s city planners made land reclamation from Tokyo Bay a chief policy. However, this policy’s costs in terms of pollution and loss of ecological balance has not been appropriately measured. One wonders if in an age where sea levels are gradually rising, such landfill policies may in years ahead take a toll on the disaster-prone coastal belt of Japan.

Ironically, city planners are always caught up between the ideal of ecological balance and the comfort of the current generation. With a greater consciousness about the ultimate environmental cost for both present and future generations, a better planning strategy may be envisaged. Every new planning measure should include a meticulous environmental-impact assessment. Consistent with the desired ecological principle of “the polluter pays,” the industries causing greater pollution may be subjected to a higher pollution tax, and environmental courts could be created to serve as watchdogs and track down the violators of environmental regulations. At the same time, civil society should be more vigilant in both environmental planning and the enforcement of environmental regulations.

East Asia and neighboring South Asia represent half of mankind. With far greater judicious environmental planning, both Asian regions may realize a stable, natural environment, thus contributing to a better destiny for humanity and all other life on Earth.

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