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Yuxi City
Yunnan Province - People's Republic of China

Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg

Chris Phillips, ASLA
Principal, Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg
2327 Yew Street
Vancouver, British Columbia V6K 3H1
Tel. 604-736-5168;
Fax 604-736-5167

Description and Purpose of Project

Yuxi is a city in Yunnan province in Southwest China, adjacent to Tibet and Burma. It was founded in 960 AD, but little of its pre-Cultural Revolution heritage remains. The city is situated within a very fertile and highly productive agricultural valley enclosed by a mountain landscape. Relaxation of restricted migration policies throughout the country is causing urbanization at an unprecedented rate. Yuxi is anticipated to double in population over the next twenty years. The central planners of China recently prepared a city plan for Yuxi as a framework for planning decisions. This plan had a traditional land use and transportation planning basis and largely ignored such issues as loss of agricultural lands to urbanization, urban design, and ecological and open space planning. The local government, and particularly the Mayor, were concerned about degradation of the environment and of Yuxi's quality of life. The Mayor envisioned a "garden city" that would act as a model for other cities in China. With this objective in mind, a multi-disciplinary planning team from Canada was assembled to prepare a comprehensive plan and inspire new directions for the city.

The project required weeks of fieldwork, many meetings with officials, and extensive research. The consultant team held town hall workshops with a variety of local people in order to get a better understanding of issues and priorities. This was a unique exercise in the democratic process for these citizens and gave them one of their first opportunities to voice their opinions about the place where they lived.

Role of the Landscape Architect

The landscape architect was a key sub-consultant to the architect who acted as a prime consultant and participated in the comprehensive urban design and planning process from inception through to completion. The landscape architect was responsible for developing an ecologically based open space system that created a 'new ordering' of the city form and protected and enhanced existing cultural and ecological resources.




Existing inaccessible rivers and irrigation canals were fully daylighted and treated as open space connections and promenades throughout the city, bringing a new system of movement and linkages. The city plan celebrates open spaces and linkages as the heart of the "new image," combining aesthetic, recreation, cultural, and ecological infrastructure goals. The landscape architect was instrumental in establishing this framework for the urban design.

Special Factors

As consultants in a foreign land, the team felt a significant responsibility to be responsive to a different political, economic, ecological and cultural setting. The plan had to balance innovative ideas with the practical realities of this country, including significantly different values and decision-making processes. Key innovations of the new plan included recommending limits to urban sprawl on agricultural lands by reversing land use designations and focusing on the densification of the existing city. A publicly owned green belt system around the city was advocated to control urban sprawl and to protect agricultural and ecological resources through wetland parks, canals, daylighted streams, and pathways. Bicycling and walking was promoted over automobile use. Neighborhoods were defined using open space linkages and given local parks for active and passive recreation and cultural events.


This project has brought international attention to the Canadian profession of Landscape Architecture and our ability to deal with the many challenges of urbanization and land use change that lie ahead in China with its mass exodus of population from country to city. Landscape architects can demonstrate the importance of ecology, of cultural landscapes, and of open space planning in the design of healthier cities.

The Yuxi plan will be widely circulated in China. It will be influential not only for its scope but for its graphic quality and ease of understanding. It is trend setting for China because it demonstrates the significance of the urban landscape and open space and of ecological foundations as organizing principles to achieve functional and aesthetic cities.

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