- First planned ecotourism and ecolodge destination in China
- Inclusion of Keija, the local minority Chinese community from Day 1 of the planning process
- Use of metaphysical analysis approaches
- Implementation of quadruple bottom line approach
- Employment of sustainable planning and design principles
- Creation of economic opportunities for local people
- Development only on disturbed areas
CHINAS RECENT ENVIRONMENTAL AND SOCIAL HISTORY
China has done many things right in the environmental area over the past decade, including large scale afforestation and massive investments to reduce air and water pollution. But in many respects, economic growth is an overwhelming investment in conservation and environmental and social protection. Recent articles in National Geographic, Wall Street Journal, and The Economist etc., highlight the environmental and social degradation caused by rapid development. Land degradation is worsening; natural forests are declining, biodiversity resources are under stress, water quality is deteriorating, and the significant growth in motor vehicles presents a significant new problem in air pollution control (World Bank). At the social level, democracy is still wanting and new projects are causing the eviction of people from their ancestral lands.
The government is well aware of these problems and has devoted considerable financial and other resources to address them. So far, however, these efforts have not produced the results that are needed, and new approaches are required (World Bank).
CASE FOR CROSSWATERS ECOLODGE
Longmen Mt. Nankun Zhongheng Ecotourism Development Co. Ltd., a company owned by Chinese Nationals, is implementing an innovative approach which is holistic in nature and addresses many of the problems mentioned above. In collaboration with the authors of this Ecotourism Project, the developers goal is to develop the first ecotourism destination in China in the forests of Nankun Shan Mountain Reserve, Guangdong Province, S. China. The team is employing a cutting-edge quadruple bottom line approach:
- not only protect the existing forest biodiversity, but enhance it;
- not only involve the local people but also help them benefit from the development;
- not only inject much needed capital into the local economy but also make a profit;
- not only respect the spirit of the place but enrich it through thoughtful, sensitive sustainable planning and design.
In a country where uncontrolled development is causing untold damage and displacing millions of people, Crosswaters Ecolodge is an exemplary study in environmental, social, economic and spiritual consciousness.
Nankun Shan Mountain Nature Reserve is located in Central Guangdong and 80 miles from Guangzhou (see location map). The reserve was established in 1984, and its major objective is to protect the subtropical evergreen broadleaf forest. The nature reserve lies within the boundaries of the Nankun Shan Forest Park, which covers an area of 260 sq. kms. There are over 1,300 plants to be found in the park with over 30 sq. kms of Bamboo, the main species being the Phyllostachys pubescens. There are over 74 bird species in the reserve and nationally protected species include the Mountain Scopes Owl, Grey-Headed Woodpecker and Orange-Bellied Leafbird. There are over 176 species of butterflies, with four of them considered near-threatened.
Over 5,000 people live in the Nature Reserve and it should be noted that the main income generating activity of the local people is the harvesting of bamboo for use in scaffolding in Guangzhou and Hong Kong.
As authors of this project, we carried out an in-depth environmental, social and metaphysical analysis. We made three different on-site visits (one week each) during winter, spring and summer and spent quality time on the site, first understanding and then studying the lifestyle of the local Keija people, who make up the majority of the population on the mountain. We particularly studied their internal spaces and relationships to gardens and philosophical connections with the bamboo. We also looked for clues and responses from what we observed; drainage, existing agriculture, water levels, seasonal visitor traffic and industry.
From the physical topography base map provided by the client, we used GIS to generate several layers; Watershed, Vegetation, Hydrology, and Land Use. We also used GIS add-ons Spatial Analyst and 3-D Analyst to create slope, elevation, slope aspect analysis, and 3-D terrain analysis layers from which we identified the optimum locations for the various buildings.
For the metaphysical site analysis, we brought in a local renowned Feng Shui master with 20 years experience to help us analyze the 'chi' (chinese word for energy) of the site. South China is the center of Feng Shui beliefs and thought processes and we felt that the local cultural and spiritual values needed to be respected. It is crucial that the 'chi' of the site not be disturbed during development.
We asked the client to organize a kick-off meeting with the local community whereby we interacted with the local Keija community and heard their views on Ecotourism development in their surrounding areas. Several discussions were held during which local wisdom and knowledge was tapped to ensure that valuable information about the site was used to develop a truly authentic ecolodge. The opportunity was also taken to inquire about local bamboo artisans and craftsmen/craftswomen. We also made several awareness-building presentations on Ecotourism and Ecolodges to local authorities.
PLANNING AND DESIGN
It should be emphasized that local people have been brought into the planning process from day one. Members of the local council and leading citizens from the main village have made valuable contributions. There has been significant community participation in the preparation of the ecotourism and Crosswaters Ecolodge plan and we received regular feedback on the various alternatives that were presented to the client and local people. It should be noted that we were able to convince the developer not to demolish the local village, but actually celebrate it and turn it into a rural tourism attraction.
Ecotourism is defined by The International Ecotourism Society as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of the local people". Nankun Mountain Reserve has all the ingredients of an authentic ecotourism experience - indigenous plants, birds, rare mammals, numerous insect species, butterflies and moths, the Keija people that live in the reserve, and most importantly a conscientious developer. The Reserve will be an ecotourism destination providing a variety of experiences and accommodation facilities - from three-star to five-star. Mountain climbing, hiking, boating, birding, tubing, cycling, walking, swimming, astronomy, wine tasting, fruit picking, wellness activities, and fish farming are just some of the experiences available to tourists. The overall Ecotourism Plan for Nankun Mountain Reserve includes the development (over a ten year period) of a five-star Ecolodge (Crosswaters), a boutique 25-room lodge called Sumoaping River Lodge, three-star Village Lodge, a visitor and Interpretation Center in Shangping Village, a Bamboo Museum, retail and civic center in the village, and enhancement and building of new trails. The first project to jump-start the Ecotourism Destination, Crosswaters Ecolodge is already under construction.
The Crosswaters Ecolodge project is a celebration of the bamboo, reflecting its context with the surrounding bamboo forests. Bamboo is called the "friend of the people" in China because of its diverse use in everything from food and cooking to furniture, paper, musical instruments, boats, and houses. Crosswaters Ecolodge is the largest project in the world with regard tothe use of bamboo in a commercial project. It is also the first instance of this method of construction (bamboo as a structural member in a place of habitation) being introduced in Asia in a large project. The spirit of the bamboo is celebrated in the landscape architecture, architecture, and interior design.
The planning of Crosswaters Ecolodge also celebrates the rich garden history of China. We researched and analyzed ancient Chinese gardens, e.g., Tao, Shouzhou and Imperial Gardens (Summer Palace, Forbidden City) to understand the relationships between inside/outside and cosmic orientations of buildings and gardens. This research was then used in the planning and design of the various gardens. The botanical garden will showcase bamboo species from China and act as an interpretive experience for guests. Other gardens include a Lotus Garden, a Reflective Moon Garden, a Seven-Sages Tao Garden, a Bamboo Sculpture Garden, a Butterfly Garden and an Organic Rice and Vegetable Garden.
It should be noted that all plant species specified for the project are native to the region and that there are no exotic species. The contractor has also been issued Sustainable Construction Guidelines. Many of the building materials are recyled and reused, e.g., boardwalks are made of railway ties, roof tiles are from demolished buildings in the village. Local craftsmen were brought in to help with all the rammed earth wall and bamboo construction.
We helped the client build a truly international consultant team including the top two bamboo designers in the world. The core consultant team represents all six continents. The rest of the expertise is local, both from academic and professional fields. The Architect of Record is based in Guangzhou and some of the most well renowned professors in S. China have provided input in ecology, ornithology, plant selection, horticulture, and tourism planning.
As the first planned ecotourism and ecolodge destination in China, Crosswaters Ecolodge is in the implementation stage and is slated to open July 2006