You would be forgiven for thinking that many so-called “green development” projects are nothing more than the same old schemes, greenwashed for a bit of eco-cred. Sure, London’s Strata SE1 looks cool and has many green features, but are elitist skyscrapers in general environmentally friendly?

And what of so-called “green spaces”, which were often greener before being urbanized? In Seoul, South Korea, what was an empty “wasteland” of terrain reclaimed from the sea only 10 years ago is now a thriving $35 billion dollar business district called Songdo. It is now home to the tallest tower in the country and a green space modeled on New York’s Central Park. Songdo is also the largest private real estate development in history. It’s obviously a greener place to live than central Seoul, but is it truly as sustainable a city as its developers say?

Songdo business district, South Korea. Pic: elTrekero (Wikimedia Commons)

In one sense it is the rich who should be the environmentally responsible ones, as poor people in general don’t make much of an impact on the climate. A Swedish study found that even in rich countries, the middle classes – despite being climate conscious, into recycling and organic food – tend to have ultra consumer lifestyles that make them “climate villains” when compared to their low income compatriots.

The same thing could be said for much of Asia, where development is rampant and large-scale architecture is booming like nowhere else in the world. In “new” cities the opportunities for green architecture – or conversely, unregulated and reckless building – are abundant. As with most places, it is the rich who are making most of the decisions.

Here’s what Italian architect Romolo V. Nati, executive chairman and CEO of ITALPINAS Euroasian Design and Eco-Development Corporation (ITPI), had to say at yesterday’s Philippine Smart and Green City Summit in Manila (via Business Mirror):

Whether or not we are conscious of it, our work determines how people and communities will be placed in relationship to one another, how whole societies will eat, sleep, work, play, worship or travel […] In short, the homes, buildings and cities we create determine how people live in consonance or in dissonance with nature.

The summit was to discuss the future development of Clark Green City in the Philippines’ Central Luzon region, slated to be the country’s first “smart and green urban center”.

These kinds of events are happening all over the Asia Pacific region, driven by the private sector. In short, green urbanization is hot. Last month in Singapore green architects unveiled the Urban Green Revolution, which marries the concepts of urban architecture and urban ecology, at GreenUrbanscapeAsia 2013. Another similar conference, the Green-CREP2 Summit, was held recently in Shanghai.

China's planned Tainjin eco-city. Pic: Park1996 (Wikimedia Commons)

In an ideal world, ecologically sound standards would be the norm and regulated democratically, but the current world system leaves such development in the hands of big business. It is at least encouraging to see some private firms embracing green architecture and urban development despite higher initial costs.

From Asia Green Buildings:

Green buildings always associate with higher initial cost and extra investment on resources, including the upgrade of Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system, procurement of more sustainable building materials, installation of renewable energy system, etc. However, a more energy-efficient HVAC system will reduce the operational cost.

–Benny Chow, Director of Sustainability at AEDAS architecture

With green consciousness growing, it is interesting to see how developing countries incorporate it into their own rapidly urbanizing landscapes.

For more on green architecture and urban planning check out the Asia Green Buildings website.