Lhasa, capital of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, will see its city area expand by more than 60 percent with the establishment of an urban district which the regional government says will help house the city's growing population, mostly Tibetans.
The 42-square-km Liuwu New District on the southeastern bank of the Lhasa River that flows across the city center will enlarge Lhasa's city proper to about 100 square km from the current 60 square km when the district takes shape in 2009.
"Lhasa will look much bigger on the map," Lhasa Mayor Doje Cezhug.
When the Tibet Autonomous Region was officially founded in 1965, Lhasa's city proper was only five square km.
Today, nearly four-fifths of Lhasa's 600,000 residents live downtown, though greater Lhasa has seven counties and one district covering about 30,000 square km. At least 80 percent of Lhasa's population are Tibetans.
The new district will accommodate 110,000 residents and has welcomed 17 businesses with a total investment of 800 million yuan(102.5 million U.S. dollars), said Doje Cezhug.
The planned residential buildings in the new district are two-storey, quake resistant structures in traditional Tibetan style, said Jiang Feng, an urban planning official from Beijing who is working in Tibet on a one-year term.
He said the Liuwu New District will become a major hub for financial, real estate and tourism industries.
Lhasa's urbanization rate reached 39 percent last year, with the city proper growing on the east and west.
Yet Dawa Tsering, head of WWF China's Program Office in Lhasa, worried the city would be "losing its unique character" as investors from other provinces may well ignore the traditional culture and alter the Tibetan styles in buildings.
Jiang tried to dispel such concerns, saying the planned buildings in the new district will carry "Tibetan icons".
The Lhasa River Bridge completed this year, for example, resembles a white lotus, a Tibetan symbol of good luck, and its main pier and the supportive piers are like the muscular legs of yaks, one of the most popular plateau species.
"Many stations along the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, which opened last year, are white, red or yellow, all colors featured in Tibetan Buddhism," he said.