Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 3 hours / session


  • Evaluate the potential for a sustainable approach to revitalizing Foshan's riverfront.
  • Establish a process for creating design ideas and guidelines for the riverfront.
  • Engage in holistic approach to revitalizing the riverfront, addressing such issues as recreation, transportation, ecology, economic development and community development.


  • Engage in meaningful teamwork and establish a process for peer evaluation.
  • Gain practical experience working with clients, including the Foshan municipality and planning consultants.
  • Create a 'handbook' of planning options for the City of Foshan.

Foshan, a Modern River City

Located in the Pearl River Delta, Foshan is a fast growing city southwest of Guangzhou. Its predominately industrial economic base, which grew out of a strong ceramics industry, is shifting toward a service-oriented economy. Recent administrative changes increased the size of the city and spurred a desire to create a new city center along the Dong Ping River. The city hopes the project will physically and symbolically knit together the old city center with new development on the south bank of the river. As Foshan expands and repositions itself, it will evolve from a city near a river to a city with a river at its heart. How Foshan makes this transition will be integral to its future economic vitality, environmental quality, and livability.

The MIT Foshan Planning Workshop focuses on applying the principles of sustainability to answer the question of how this transition should take place. By building on the city's unique assets -- the riverfront and waterways, cultural and historic treasures, and its convenient location within the Pearl River Delta -- Foshan can both differentiate itself from other rapidly expanding Chinese cities and transform itself to a modern river city that provides the highest quality of life for its residents and visitors. To illustrate planning ideas and recommendations, the workshop targeted three focus areas integral to this vision: the waterfront, the north-south axis and the south side.


In the winter and spring of 2004, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Department of Urban Studies and Planning students participated in a graduate planning workshop on the Foshan, China.

This workshop is intended to complement the master planning work conducted by Sasaki Associates (Watertown, Massachusetts) in Foshan. We were sponsored by Margie Yang and The Esquel Group, a leading garment and textile manufacturer that is headquartered in Hong Kong and has a large presence in Foshan.

Workshop Process

Our goal was to develop planning options and resources for the planning officials in Foshan. We chose to focus on the waterfront area and the newly incorporated southern bank.

We have tried to integrate the notion of sustainable development in every step of the process. We interpret sustainable development as the balancing of economic development, environmental concerns, and social equity in priority-setting and implementation.

We made three trips to Foshan during the course of the workshop: an initial site visit in January 2004, a mid-term trip in March of 2004, and a final trip to present our work in June 2004. In addition to visiting Foshan, we also traveled to Hong Kong, Shanghai, Suzhou, Shenzen and Guangzhou. During our visits, we met with local planning officials and academics, investigated examples of local successes in addressing some of the challenges faced by Foshan, surveyed the sites that will be developed in Foshan, and presented initial and interim findings to Foshan's local officials.

In between visits, we focused on several areas of inquiry: housing and village preservation; heritage and cultural infrastructure; parks and open space; transportation systems and networks; and water resource management. Each team explored in depth best practices and case studies in these subject areas from other cities around China, Asia, and the rest of the world. In addition, we conducted several design charrettes with experts from the fields of urban design, planning, and land policy. The students also investigated alternative development and urban design scenarios for several key areas, specifically focusing on feasibility and implementation considerations.

Defining Issues

There are several defining issues that make the Foshan expansion project unique. The development plans for the future intend to expand the city southward, consuming land south of the Dong Ping which has traditionally been occupied by farming villages and fish ponds. We were very interested in investigating how these villages and the people living there could be incorporated into the growth plans for the city.

Like most Chinese cities, Foshan struggles to find a balance between dense development, economic viability, and livability (quality of life). The development pressures in Foshan reveal the challenges in creating a viable urban environment that is ecologically healthy and socially equitable.


Additionally, one of the key areas of concern explored in this project is creating a viable connection between the northern ("old") part of the city with the southern ("new") part of the city. Much attention was given to the fundamental challenge of re-orienting Foshan towards the Dong Ping River; transforming the city so that the river runs through it, rather than along its periphery. Transportation and infrastructure development are of paramount importance for this, but it also involves linking the two sides of the river culturally and psychologically.

Finally, the Pearl River Delta region (also comprising Hong Kong, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen) is an area of intense economic growth and development. In order to be competitive in this environment, Foshan must find ways to distinguish itself and define its own identity amongst the most productive cities in the world, for residents, visitors and investors. One such way to enhance Foshan's distinctiveness in the area is to embrace its natural history and its forward-looking development plans in creating an image of a "modern river city."

Workshop Output

At the conclusion of the workshop, the students published a Web site and a series of posters that presented both urban design alternatives for the South Bank and Waterfront areas. These products are enhanced by implementation strategies, policy guidelines, and suggested phasing. The case studies which informed much of these recommendations can also be found on the Web site, as well as links to additional resources for future reference. The students and faculty of the workshop strongly hope that this work will be useful and helpful to the planning officials in Foshan as they continue to move forward.

The students of the Foshan workshop would like to extend their deepest gratitude to the Esquel Group for supporting the research and being our hosts while in China, as well as to the numerous experts who contributed their time during the course of the semester. Finally, many thanks to our esteemed professors and instructors, Tunney Lee, Yu-Hung Hong, Wallace Ping Hung Chang, Joe Chow and Bonnie Campbell.