A mastermind of green design

By Erik Nilsson (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-07-01 11:03
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A mastermind of green design

A tree house built by David Greenberg at Sanya city's Nanshan Culture Tourism Zone.

"I did that until I got burnt out and ran away to Hawaii," he says. "I decided to start all over again. I'd had it with architecture; I'd had it with urban design."

He arrived in Maui with $50 in his pocket and a small plot of land. Soon after his arrival, he began cutting down bamboo to build tree houses and says that during that time, "architecture became fun again".

"There's something about tree houses that are fun and fantasy," he says.

Before long, Greenberg's love for design had been reinvigorated and his savings drained.

But before the year was over, Hawaii's governor invited him to join a delegation of five businesspeople from Maui to Sanya, which were to become sister counties, while Hawaii and Hainan were to become sister states.

Upon learning of Greenberg's tree houses, Hainan's government said it wanted to launch a joint development with him.

"Hainan's governor was enamored; he loved it. He sent me (to Nanshan) in like a police car with the siren to get me there fast."

This was the beginning of his dual life in which he spends half his time in China and half in Maui.

His projects in China since have included work on eco-tourist resorts in Zhangjiajie, Hunan province, and Hainan's Bo'ao and Xiangshuiwan; presentations at the 2006 Ecology Summit in Chongqing and the 2007 EcoSummit in Beijing; and consulting work for the Shanghai 2010 Expo and the New Radiant City in Shenzhen, Guangdong province.

About half his time in China is spent in "the fast lane" of Beijing, but Greenberg says that what he loves about Hainan is, "there is no fast lane here".

"I love rural China, the rural Chinese, their philosophy about life and toward nature and community," he says. "But I'm aware there's a lot of poverty in rural China."

He has since devoted his life to the alleviation of that poverty through what he calls "sustainable ruralism" - a concept "integrating tourism, agriculture and nature into one" rather than "chunking" them. The way in which the practice incorporates these elements is more like a woven tapestry than a patchwork quilt.

In addition, sustainable ruralism stipulates villagers should be included in the development process rather than be relocated, as is often the case.

"I think sustainable ruralism is the future of China, because it will infuse money into nature," he says. "I think China and the world must consider more eco-tourism and less ego-tourism."

Greenberg advocates the idea that the practice could help counterbalance the yawning disparities between the country's rural and urban areas while also resolving many environmental problems.

"Just like the architects went into the rundown parts of the cities in the US during the 1960s to remodel and revive, the landscape architects must go to China's rural areas and do much the same thing," he says. For that reason, he says: "I'm so lucky and so happy to be working for my last few years in China."

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