The largest freshwater lake in Zhejiang Province lies only seven kilometers from the center of Ningbo. But until recently there was no plan for realizing the lake’s potential as a leisure and tourism destination. Now Design + Planning AECOM has designed a 2000-hectare town along the lake, with 159 hectares devoted to a civic center that will attract visitors from Ningbo and beyond. The center contains a large public plaza, flanked on two sides by hotels. Inland from the plaza are shopping streets, on which buildings—in a “streamlined” version of the local vernacular style will face newly contoured canals. Throughout the town center, the planners insisted on intimately scaled spaces, with more bicycle routes and pedestrian paths than are typical of new cities in China, says Brian Jan, principal-in-charge and director of urban design, Asia, for AECOM.

Jan’s team also worked closely with environmental engineers to allow the new town to coexist with the lake and canals, which will continue to be used for irrigation. Extensive “treatment wetlands” in the master plan will help insure water quality remains high, says Jan—both for environmental reasons, and because the future of the town depends on it. “If the water quality drops,” he says, “so does the value of the land and the development.”

The plan is a testament to Jan’s perseverance. EDAW, a global planning firm based in San Francisco, opened a Hong Kong office in 1997. One of its first clients was a branch of the Ningbo Planning Bureau, which was looking to develop the under-utilized shoreline of Dongqian Lake. Since then, the firm (which became part of AECOM in 2005) has signed five contracts with the Dongqian Lake Tourism Branch of the Ningbo Planning Bureau. First the firm conducted a study of the potential for tourism along the lake, which it positioned as Ningbo’s “recreational backyard." Its second contract was to develop a comprehensive plan for the entire town, which includes extensive residential and commercial sectors. Under the third, fourth, and fifth contracts, it created development guidelines for each of the town’s districts, and further refined the plans for the picturesque town center. Now, says Jan, “they’re ready to start building." Construction of the center is expected to begin next year.

The five completed contracts demonstrate the strength of the firm’s relationship with the Ningbo government. But Jan’s group has worked to involve the private sector, holding meetings at which developers provided input on what they would be willing to build and on what terms. Those meetings helped ensure, says Jan, that the plan is implementable, and that, when it came to what developers could do, and what the government will do, “everyone was on the same page.”