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Development jockeys with ecology on Shanghai island

Written by: Staff
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CHONGMING ISLAND, China, Apr 14 (Reuters) Lao Yu has visions of a better life as the bulldozers rumble onto his rural island home where a new city will sprout up near marshes teeming with wildlife and wipe away cabbage and tomato fields.

But the middle-aged cabbie knows he is unlikely to swap his small home for an apartment in the new city, to be called Dongtan, and built to house a population spillover from crowded Shanghai 90 minutes away by boat.

''This new city will be good for our island's development.

The average wage in Shanghai is five times higher than here,'' said Yu, driving along a rough country road.

''But local people won't be able to just move there. It will mostly be Shanghainese.'' There is already some resentment against the island's authorities over the preferential treatment of outsiders, notably the influx of immigrants displaced by the Three Gorges Dam project.

''Many of them have come here with government aid while we have to fend for ourselves,'' said a fellow taxi driver, a portly man in his 40s.

The Chinese government hails Dongtan as a model for others to mimic and vows to protect the environment of the island, which is bigger than Cyprus and sits in the mouth of the Yangtze river.

All vehicles will be electric, and the construction process aims to be sustainable, while the wetlands' ecosystem will be protected with a special buffer zone separating it from the new city, said Arup, the British engineering consultancy charged with overseeing the development.

Environmentalists are sceptical that Dongtan will be any better than many other Chinese cities, mostly because they think its very creation could destroy an important ecosystem.

China has 16 of the world's 20 most polluted cities, their rapid growth fuelled by years of breakneck economic expansion largely at the expense of the environment.

An estimated 8.5 million people leave the countryside each year, further driving China's rapid urbanisation and loss of farmland to build houses, roads and factories.

MORE REUTERS KD SP1057

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