The proposed community includes
- a stronger emphasis on public transit and non-polluting forms of transport like bicycles;
- community development centered around public transit stops; and
- most important and exciting, extensive use of renewable energy and recycling to make the community as self-sufficient and carbon-neutral as possible.
As the project progressed, the Berkeley team became more and more excited by the potential for the whole system design concept to be a real breakthrough, to be a reproducible model for sustainable development throughout China and the developing world. The buildings are platforms for producing energy from renewable sources such as wind and sun. Sewage is not treated and dumped, but processed into energy, fertilizer, and water for irrigation. The landscape is more than eye pleasing; it is a multi-functional contributor to the systems. There is little or no waste, and all energy is generated on site. Most importantly, the neighborhood becomes essentially a self-sufficient unit, a circular system. It does not require the construction of expensive new power plants, new sewage treatment and water supply outside the system.This approach to community development, however, had its downside as well.
The new design requires a radical transformation in the development process. In addition to constructing housing units, the developer has to build a comprehensive, on-site utility system of energy production, water supply, and sewage treatment, which is beyond the developer's traditional scope of work. It requires getting approvals through government agencies that are narrowly proscribed and not accustomed to thinking across their jurisdictions. Most importantly, it requires design and construction professionals to share responsibility and to work collaboratively, to which they are unaccustomed. It requires paying 15 to 20 percent of the costs up front. Even though the life cycle costs are significantly less than the cost of constructing new centralized utilities, the question becomes: Who owns, operates, and maintains the system, and how are they compensated for the service? Some models exist for funding and operating on site systems, but none is as comprehensive and integrated as the one proposed.Despite these potential problems, the Fraker team's approach offers an alternative for community design—not just in China and the developing world, but in the advanced economies. It will be interesting to see whether it is widely adopted in China.