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Xi'an vying to protect relics
By Ma Lie (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-12-22 10:00

XI'AN: Northwest China's largest city has mapped out its development plan for the next 16 years, aiming to accelerate urbanization while preserving the ancient style and features of the city centre.

The Overall Urban Plan of Xi'an 2004-2020 has been basically completed, and was publicly announced last Thursday by the Xi'an Municipal Urban Planning Bureau.

"According to the plan, Xi'an's size, shape, roads, transportation and environment will see great changes," said He Hongxing, director of the bureau.

The plan re-evaluates the city's characteristics and emphasizes the protection of the environment and the ancient city. The concept of a new urban area is being proposed.

"As a world-renowned historical ancient city and one of the most popular tourist destinations, Xi'an is also an important educational, scientific, manufacturing and high-tech base. The city will be built into an international metropolis combining modern and ancient civilizations," He said.

According to the plan, the total population of the planned metropolis will reach 10.3 million in 2020, 2.9 times more than in the previous plan in 2000, and the urban area will reach 788 square kilometres, three times the area planned in 2000.

Urbanization will develop the local economy and put pressure on city management. The population will be progressively reduced in downtown Xi'an and more suburban administrative and business centres will be built for the increased population, said Qiao Zheng, vice-mayor of Xi'an.

"With the rapid economic development and growing population, Xi'an should build suburban centres in its outlying districts of Lintong, Yanliang, Chang'an, Xinzhu and Jingyang, which can effectively decrease urban density," He said.

The plan proposes that these newly developed outlying areas will help better protect the historical style and features in the downtown area surrounded by ancient walls.

Xi'an boasts a history of some 3,000 years and served as the capital of 11 dynasties in China, including Western Zhou (1046-771BC), Qin (221-206 BC), Western Han (206 BC- AD 24), Sui (AD 581-618) and Tang (AD 618-907) dynasties. The city served as the capital for 1,068 years, and is unparalleled in Chinese history.

In the Tang Dynasty, Xi'an, then named Chang'an, was regarded as one the world's most thriving metropolises.

Also, Xi'an is regarded as the starting point of the world-famous ancient Silk Road linking China with western Europe, which was the most important way for trade, business and cultural exchanges between East and West.

Such a long history and important status left a large number of ancient relics inside and around the city, including the remains at the Banpo Village of a complete matriarchal clan commune from the neolithic age, the terra-cotta warriors and horses of the Qin Dynasty, the Dayan Pagoda built in the Tang Dynasty and the Bell and Drum Towers of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

"The long history makes Xi'an one of the most famous four major historical ancient capitals in the world, enjoying equal fame with Cairo, Athens and Rome. It requires us to pay more attention to better protect the city's ancient style," said vice-mayor Qiao.

During the Xi'an Strategic Development Seminar held in 2002, the idea of expanding the urban area to protect the ancient inner city was first proposed by local officials, urban planners and economic and cultural experts.

"As the capital of Shaanxi Province, there are too many provincial and municipal government offices in downtown Xi'an. It not only causes traffic jams during working hours, but also is unfavourable to the protection of historical relics," said Zhang Baotong, director of the Shaanxi Economic Research Institute.

Every city has its own way to develop, and for Xi'an, further economic development should be based on its special characteristics and on rich historical resources, Zhang said.

Xi'an has a 14-square-kilometre downtown area surrounded by a complete ancient wall built during the Ming Dynasty, which is called the old city. Many governmental administrative institutes, trade and business centres and residential buildings cluster together with large number of ancient historical relics.

The protection and upgrading measures for the old city suggested that buildings unsuited to the plan should either be dismantled or renovated, and the construction of new buildings will be approved in a prudent fashion, in order to progressively reduce the density of inhabitants, the vice-mayor said. "The withdrawal of administrative organs from the old city can ease traffic pressures there," Qiao said.

The plan stresses the sustainable development principle and protection of current urban patterns passed down from successive dynasties, as well as the ancient relics either standing in the city or buried underground. It suggests that the designs of new buildings in the city should be monitored and guided, incorporating them harmoniously into the ancient cityscape.

Besides urban planning, Xi'an also enacted regulations to better protect the ancient ruin. In the past years, local legislature passed a number of laws for relics protection in the city, Qiao said.

Ambitious city

In the newly announced urban development plan, great attention is paid to effectively improve the urban environment, and some environmental projects have been mapped out.

As one of the six major communication hubs in China, Xi'an is also working to build itself over the next 16 years into a global air transportation centre, an important domestic highway and railway hub and the largest trading centre in western China, Qiao said.

Regarding urban transportation, Xi'an will build a fast, high-efficient and environmentally-friendly urban public transportation system using rails, Qiao said.

For the first time, the plan designates areas where construction is strictly controlled in order to protect the environment and land.

"Construction projects will be banned on the farmland, wetlands, in Qinling Mountain natural protection zone, large-scale ancient ruins zones, ancient tombs zones and ancient temple yards," the vice-mayor said.

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