writers Liu Baiyun and Ding Le GUANGZHOU (Xinhua) --
Every time Liu Wei sees the mountain gorilla magnet on his
refrigerator, he recalls a journey in Rwanda, home to one third
of the world’s mountain gorillas.
Four years ago, Liu Wei and Wu Jie,
two young urban planners with Guangzhou Urban Planning and
Design Survey Research Institute (GZPI), and four other
colleagues were invited by UN-Habitat to make conceptual master
plans for Rubavu and Nyagatare, two sub-central cities of
“When I looked down through the window
on the plane, I saw vast mountains everywhere,” Wu said.
When the team arrived in Kigali,
capital of Rwanda, Liu and his colleagues were surprised to find
a very clean and well-planned city, contrary to everything they
had imagined. But as they drove out of town, thatched huts and
shacks became the norm.
“They reminded me of Chinese villages
in the old days,” Wu said.
After research, Liu found that
existing plans in Rwanda put great emphasis on the beauty and
function of architectural forms, but lacked an overall vision.
“China is the largest developing
country in the world. In the past 40 years, we gained a lot of
experience in urban planning under difficult and complicated
conditions,” Liu said.
“We think our experience can help
Rwanda set up an urban planning strategy,” he added.
After assessing the existing plans
with the Rwandan Ministry of Infrastructure, the team came up
with a framework focusing on urban development, structure,
neighborhood and implementation and made five proposals.
The proposals were described by the
Rwandans as “the best summary of China’s development
experience,” according to Wu. In discussion with other planners
from UN-Habitat, putting environmental protection first was
By “respecting nature and existing
arable land,” the team proposed setting up three ecological
corridors between the agriculture area in the north and the
mountains in the south to preserve a path for migrating animals.
In Nyagatare, they planned to
integrate volcanoes, lakes, rivers and hills to create a
semi-artificial ecosystem in harmony with the city proper.
“The plan not only eyes tourism
development, but protects the environment,” Wu said.
They proposed an urban belt along Lake
Kivu, with sports facilities, hotels, hot spring resorts and
Good urban planning should bring
seamless economic vitality to a city, Liu said. During his field
research, Liu saw many makeshift markets on the border of Rubavu
in Rwanda and Goma in Congo. With basically no infrastructure or
logistics, traders had to carry heavy loads and walk for hours.
To address the problem, the team
proposed that Rubavu “play its comparative advantages to develop
a port economy; use local resources to set up industry parks;
and build major infrastructure to transform itself into a
According to the planners, learning
from Chinese experience is not simply copy-and-paste, but must
be adapted to local conditions. For example, in China, drainage
can be very important to deal with flooding, yet in Rwanda more
than 6 months of the year are dry, which means ditches by the
roadside are enough. Such adjustments were common in the plans
as the team tried to make it affordable.
In the end, the plan for Rubavu was
approved and the land for the central transportation corridor
The plan was also presented at the
United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban
Development (Habitat III). UN-Habitat even included it in its
annual work report. In 2016, more urban planners with GZPI were
invited by UN-Habitat to make plans for two cities in
While China is Rwanda’s largest
trading partner, bilateral exchange in terms of education and
expertise is also on the rise. There are now more than 1,000
Rwandans studying science and technology at universities in