City and Regional Planning

Canal Redevelopment and the Public Realm

Spring 2016

Canal Redevelopment and the Public Realm: An Advanced Urban Design Studio in
Suzhou, China

A 2015 study by China’s Environment Ministry rated sixty percent of the country’s underground water, and one-third of its surface water, unfit for human contact. This is an especially big problem for cities that rely on canals for their cultural identity, such as Suzhou, known as the “Venice of the East.” The city’s canals date back a thousand years and rank among China’s top domestic tourist destinations, on par with the Great Wall.

Like many other Chinese cities, Suzhou and its satellites including Changshu have witnessed unprecedented urbanization rates. The establishment of two Special Economic Zones (SEZ’s) in the early 1990’s has five-folded the city’s population to more than 5 million people in 2014. But
fast-paced economic growth has come at the cost of environmental degradation, deteriorating air and water quality, monotonous housing developments, a poorly designed public realm, and streets that are virtually impossible to cross. These threaten Suzhou’s two and a half millennia legacy and reputation as a green, resort-like city.

This advanced urban design studio will develop models for the redevelopment of Suzhou’s and Changshu’s inner city canals. It aims to improve the public realm and upgrade the canals through culturally and environmentally sensitive urban development, including environmental remediation, community projects, and mass transportation.

The studio will thus bring together different disciplines, including landscape architecture, architecture, transportation, environmental planning, as
well as urban design.


Stefan Al, Former Associate Professor of City and Regional Planning