Bei Da Hu Support Town

Transforming a small agricultural community into a distinctively modern town of the future.


Jilin Province, China


640 hectares


THE CHALLENGE: Attracting a Critical Population from Farmland to Town

The Bei Da Hu region of China’s Jilin Province is growing rapidly, thanks to a popular ski resort and other sports tourism. The government of China’s Jilin Province anticipates that thousands of farmers will have to be relocated off their farms in the coming years in an effort to modernize the agriculture sector and to accommodate the region’s growth. To ease this transition, they established Bei Da Hu as one of six experimental towns, relaxing standard planning regulations and opening the door to more innovative design principles that attract rather than force farmers to move. The goal is to create a new town that can accommodate growth from its current population of approximately 8,750 to a population of over 20,000 people by the year 2030.

The planning vision for Bei Da Hu is to transform it from a typical small agricultural town with outdated facilities to a distinctively modern model town, providing farmers with a variety of employment opportunities near their homes. The Bei Da Hu Support Town will also provide integrated and sustainable infrastructure systems for the entire region, for which WATG has created a visionary development plan. In the process of development, regional characteristics should be highlighted, while the human scale and appeal of small-town living should be retained. Efforts will also be made to increase employment opportunities for the residents, and thus raise their standard of living.

THE DESIGN STRATEGY: Creating a Comprehensive Strategy for an Integrated Town

Traditionally, relocated farmers are moved to mid-rise apartment blocks in the center of cities and towns, leaving them alienated from their families, land and lifestyle. They are removed from the countryside where they have spent their lives, so WATG’s approach in planning this new town was to bring the farms with them – creating a master plan for a community that integrates the farmers more comfortably into a semi-urban environment, ensuring their agricultural roots remain intact.

WATG provided a comprehensive development strategy for an integrated Bei Da Hu support town, with emphasis on the key areas of physical, social and economic development. The plan aimed to create a livable town that caters to its own needs, and that provides a labor force, public facilities and infrastructure in support of the broader Bei Da Hu region’s ski and sport tourism industry.

According to the plan, a successful support town model would require the integration of ten key strategies:

  1. Creating a central town surrounded by multiple low-density villages that provide homes for all family types.
  2. Providing a variety of housing from single family homes to multi-family apartments, each including personal gardens or outdoor spaces, and prioritizing good quality design, materials and construction.
  3. Providing diverse functions and attractions, including a range of facilities and amenities that improve the region’s quality of life and that support the region’s sports tourism industry.
  4. Establishing a foundation of good infrastructure and public facilities, including road improvements, centralized waste and sewage treatment, pollution reduction strategies, and healthcare facilities.
  5. Ensuring good civic governance and adequate infrastructure maintenance.
  6. Providing good education by improving existing schools and building additional schools as the population grows, and by creating training centers for the regional labor force to improve their skills.
  7. Ensuring productive land for agriculture by creating small farms and/or gardening plots for relocated farmers and encouraging the growth of a diverse rotation of crops for safe local consumption as well as high-yield crops for revenue.
  8. Promoting individual and community wellbeing through safe and active shared public space, and easy access to nature and sports.
  9. Creating a sustainable living environment by promoting walking, biking, and renewable forms of energy, and by nurturing a balanced lifestyle through plentiful job opportunities as well as easily accessible nature and recreation.
  10. Safeguarding the town’s future through energy, food and financial security achieved by:
    • Actively using renewable energy and promoting conservation through the use of communal heating and cooling systems.
    • Encouraging the production of natural and organic agricultural products using modern and efficient production methods.
    • Providing multi-channel sources of employment.

At the core of these strategies is the connection between the urban town core and the surrounding farmland – the visual and physical links, as well as the emotional ties that come from generations of an agricultural lifestyle. As the first phases of the new town are implemented, the relocated farmers are allocated garden plots adjacent to their homes. These plots not only allow the farmers to continue growing their own crops, but they become important social centers and places of interaction. As those farmers pass on, those plots can be redeveloped and filled in to accommodate growth, as necessary.

THE RESULT: Future-Proofing through People-Centric Planning

Growth is inevitable – the region’s ski resort has seen revenues double in recent seasons, as new hotels and apartments are added every year. But with a strategic master plan, relocated farmers are treated with greater sensitivity and respect for their contributions to the region’s prosperity. WATG’s plan reflects this by maintaining a comfortable and approachable human scale as well as the region’s historic characteristics, even as the town transforms to an unmistakably modern one. The new town is expected to attract approximately 11,000 farmers from the surrounding valleys.

By prioritizing residents’ quality of life – making land usable for farmers’ livelihood, generating resident income, and promoting environmental sustainability – the social impact is significant. The ecological impact is significant too, as a result of strategies that ensure the long-term availability of low-cost renewable resources. But by designing for the specific people who will inhabit the town, Bei Da Hu Support Town becomes a place people are proud to be part of, and proud to help grow for future generations.