Many ancient cities, such as Luoyi (today’s Luoyang City) in the Western Zhou Dynasty, Chang’an City in the Sui and Tang Dynasties, Lin’an in the Southern Song Dynasty, Beijing in the Ming and Qing Dynasties, Miletus in ancient Greece and Timgad in ancient Rome, presented regular design features. The theoretical model of early cities also showed a regular style. For example, in China, as stated in the book of Zhou Li·Kaogongji, most imperial cities have been built with a “square of nine Li (a Chinese unit of length), three gates on each side, nine north-south roads and nine east-west roads in the cities. On the left of the palace city was the ancestral temple, on the right was the state altar, in the front was the court hall, and at the behind was the chamber”. In the West, the Ten Books on Architecture (de architectura libri decem) by Vitruvius put forward an ideal city model based on the early ideas of ancient Greece, characterized by an octagonal plane and radial ring road network, which, to some extent, influenced the form of cities in the late Renaissance period. Outside these regular cities often lie natural mountains, jungles, farmland and streams. The cities and the surrounding natural systems presented a clear order and integrated relationship.
However, the mass production brought about by the industrial revolution led to a shortage of labor in cities, causing a people rush from the countryside into the cities. The cities, with their original scales, failed to accommodate the surging population, resulting in a series of social problems, including housing shortage, traffic congestion and environmental deterioration, and the call for a social reform was rising day by day. After that, the Great Britain started to build city parks and urban infrastructures such as sewers and environmental sanitation, which greatly improved the urban environment and appearance. With the promotion of the industrial revolution into France, Paris implemented a reconstruction and expansion plan. In this plan, comprehensive arrangements were made for roads, housing, municipal construction and land management, and city gardens for the first time were included in the scope of urban public facilities construction projects. Besides, Cologne, Vienna and many other cities also followed Paris to reconstruct their cities. That’s why we can see the influence of Versailles’ gardens in L’Enfant’s plan proposal for Washington. When designing Canberra, the capital of Australia, Griffin designed the city as if he was designing a garden, giving priority to the natural landscape over the main urban space. In 1893, Chicago hosted a World Expo where the lakeside area was built into a boulevard and beautiful recreational site, which made people recognize the importance of beautifying the city landscape and solving the problem of city mess. Therefore, an upsurge of “City Beautiful Movement” was set off in the United States, and gradually the construction of city parks was integrated into urban design. During this period, green space was all along the adhesive in making up for the gap between urban construction & industrial production and social development & people’s needs.
The concept of modern “urban design” was put forward by Harvard University in the middle 20th century. In China, the concept was officially put forward in 1980. Although the concept was put forward late, the human experience and wisdom on urban design has been nurtured in the process of social development. Urban design is a result of labor division in the social development. As a comprehensive multi-disciplinary medium, urban design has promoted multi-party cooperation in the process of urban construction. As ecology has been gradually developed into an independent discipline, Rachel Carson and Ian McHarg et, al. have introduced the concept of ecology into urban design, and people are focusing more and more on the sustainability and resilience of cities. All the urban design ideas widely discussed in recent years, such as landscape urbanism and ecological urbanism, have taken ecology as the basic driving force for urban development.
In the era of ecological civilization, “green” has more complex connotation and denotation. It has been integrated with the concepts of energy consumption reduction, carbon emission reduction and carbon neutralization and was gradually integrated into urban design. At the beginning of the 21st century, many European cities have put green urban design into practice. The Bo01 City of Tomorrow in Malmo and the Hammarby new city in Stockholm, Sweden explored the construction of future-oriented ecological cities which featured high-density communities suitable for walking and cycling, ultra-low energy consumption houses and low-carbon transportation facilities, as well as low-level per capita greenhouse gas emission. However, there is still room for improvement in the integration with the landscape. The city plans are good energy-saving building plans, but cannot be regarded as good models of green urban design. Ecology can be integrated into compact urban development. As the architect Michael Dennis once said, “Density does not exclude ecological considerations. On the contrary, ecology and density are fraternal twins.” Hence, ecosystem can be integrated with high-density and compact humanized communities, and green urban design needs to find the best path for close integration among the city form, architecture, landscape and human.
Many cities in China have committed themselves to building low-carbon cities or future cities and holding attractive international urban design competitions. Often, we see very amazing award-winning works in urban design competitions from the media, but how many of these works can be subsequently implemented? Will urban design be reduced to drawings and copywritings just for competition, and whether can these drawings and copywritings be used as effective means to guide urban development and construction? I believe that urban design and construction in any era are based on the satisfaction of human needs for a better life. Cities serve people’s needs. As the times change, people’s needs for a better life change too. What remains unchanged is the continuous exploration and efforts that human beings have made and will continue to make to build an ideal living environment.