Nanchang is one of China’s “second-tier” cities. With 5.04 million people, its population is nearly twice the size of Chicago’s. There are few places here where you can get some fresh air, but in the middle of the high-tech national industrial zone on the fringes of this sprawling city, the provincial government has carved out 4.5 square kilometers of wetlands around Aixi Lake for preservation.
The park, which was set up in 2007, features young trees planted in rows, parallel to the new high-rise apartment buildings that sprout up along long blocks in Nanchang. The paved road running though the park is smooth, and divided into one lane for bicyclists and a second for electric golf carts. Wooden signs encourage passersby to “enhance environmental awareness” while construction cranes and new towers rise in the distance. It feels more like a nature theme park than a conservation site.
Like Beijing and some of China’s larger cities, Nanchang suffers from severe air pollution as a consequence of economic development. During a recent visit to Nanchang, the banks of the Don River, which snakes through the city center, were dried up because of a lack of rain and heavy construction activity. The level of particulate matter in the air registered at hazardous levels. The city’s skyline was barely visible amid heavy smog.
Despite this, local and provincial officials want people to know that the city and the province aspire to be known as much for protecting the environment as for achieving strong economic growth. Nanchang set a target to cut its carbon emissions per unit of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to 48 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, more than the national target of 40 to 45 percent.
Lan Wensheng, director of the information for the foreign affairs office of Jiangxi province, said a cleaner environment would make the region more attractive to foreign and domestic businesses. On my visit to the city’s 231-square kilometer high-tech industrial zone, officials said the center has air quality monitoring systems and that Aixi Lake will become a sanctuary for migrating birds.