November 2, 2009

China Opens New Bridge To Famous Remote Island

China opened a new bridge over the Yangtze River on Saturday that will start the swift expansion of the country's "last virgin island."

Chongming Island has long been the obsession of developers, who have mulled over building things like a Disney theme park, to a tribute to Michael Jackson's Neverland ranch.

Many worry that the new traffic might harm the island and its wetlands, but officials maintain that the island will not be harmed by overdevelopment.

"We believe the negative impact from the bridge will be almost negligible," Zhao Qi, the Shanghai government official in charge of Chongming, said to reporters.

Two more bridges are planned in the area as part of a countrywide highway, city construction commissioner Huang Rong announced to AFP.

Chongming was the target of global interest in 2005 when then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Chinese President Hu Jintao dubbed it the location of the world's first "eco-city," called Dongtan.

The low-carbon, environmentally-friendly city was intended to be presented at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, but those intentions have been trumped by other development ideas.

Zhao maintains that the Dongtan idea is still in motion, insisting that it is "still in the planning stages".

Chongming is in reality not a bare, unspoiled island. 700,000 people reside on the island, and that number will most likely increase to two million in the next ten years.

Residents use 18 different ferry routes to travel to the mainland, so the new bridge is helpful to the island's citizens. However, many people are worried that the island might be tainted by corrupt developers.

Philip Enquist, a Chicago-based architect, was challenged by the Shanghai government to create a master preparation for the island. However, he has not heard anything from the country in two years, and is concerned that the bridge will usher in unrestricted construction.

"Chongming runs a huge risk of being poorly developed because it's now accessible to Shanghai. There are very little constraints and there's a lot of open land there," Enquist said to the AFP.

Chongming's wetlands, which house different kinds of rare migratory birds, its nearness to Shanghai and its location come together to make the island a unique area that should not be desecrated, he said.

"It could play a very unique role and it shouldn't be built into the same suburban-ness that so much of Shanghai is turning into," noted Enquist.

Zhao is adamant that the government is considering a larger definition of the island's "ecology" to guarantee that industrial growth will not harm the environment.

"We will stress the environment has a limit of what it can handle. Based on what the environment can handle, we will make proper investments to upgrade people's living standards and boost economic development," Zhao said.