China - the drive to improve the urban revolution

Written by Brian Kilkelly on 21 February 2014

Improving the 'urban revolution' in China

EU-China Urbanisation Mission

I was invited to participate in an EU-China collaboration to support the urban development strategy in China through the sharing of lessons from the European experience of urbanisation. This was an exciting opportunity to discuss and exchange ideas that could support Chinese and European leaders as we steer our cities and towns towards better urbanisation.

The trip started in Beijing where I met with the EU team led by Dr Juergen Ritter for a briefing. They explained the background their project which was initiated in 2012 by the the 'Joint Declaration on the EU-China Partnership on Urbanisation' made between Vice Premier Li Keqiang and EU President José Manuel. The intention is to encourage governments and enterprises on both sides to provide financial, technical, and intellectual support to promote exchanges and cooperation at various levels.

City of Urumqi in the Xingjiang Province, China

Overall observations

The Chinese Academy of Governance (CAG) hosted our engagement with some 200 city and provincial leaders from across two Chinese provinces: Xinjiang and Shanxi. The meetings were held in the cities of Urumqi and Tiayuan during November 2013. Nicolai Peitersen of Pathway International was my co-presenter and he provided excellent input from his experience of how best to tailor content for Chinese leaders. The audience was very engaged and the questions suggested our experience was stimulating and relevant for their issues. There was a real appreciation of the European urbanisation experience and a strong appetite to discuss further and deeper on all of the topics. 

Mr Gao Jian, Associate Dean and Professor<br>

Key topics and issues addressed in Xinjiang


Integration and development of informatization and  urbanization in China and Europe

·  Smart Cities overview

·  Business incubation

·  Opportunities to integrate urban-rural development through smart work centres and ICT technology

Administrative reform focusing on the urban-rural integrated development

·  Spacial Planning

·  Universal Service

·  Changing nature of governance

·  Engaging with communities

·  Urban agriculture and skills development

Key topics addressed in Shanxi

o  Growth of megacities vs decline of towns

o  Sprawl, Pollution, and Income gap

·  Spatial planning and Transit Orientated Development

·  Strategic Planning and role of government

o  Community engagement, community led energy production

·  Buildings – new and old, Cultural and environmental

·  New forms of governance – cooperation

Protection and improvement of people’s livelihood in the process of urbanization

o  Human scale urbanization, Importance of place, spacial planning

·  Urbanisation as a tool to protect: social housing

·  Environmental principals – polluter pays, independent analysis/oversight

·  Transport as a key area

·  Public services / Equal access to rights and services

·  Culture and purpose

Beijing: All of the cities I visited featured miles of residential tower blocks built to house the thousands of urban migrants
Street in Urumqi: In the far province of Xianjiang which is several hours flight from Beijing, the city of Urumqi is well developed and growing<br>

Concluding remarks

I found the scale and speed of growth to be spectacular – as expected! But the challenges of pollution, quality of place, and social balance is also very evident. The stories from my colleagues in Beijing of air pollution levels regularly soaring 10 fold above safe limits and my own experience of the smog in Urumqi really brought home the challenge China faces in reigning in this issue.

The opportunities for growth, improvements to quality of life, equality, and prosperity are palpable. I was really impressed with the passion and determination of the city leaders we met to learn from others and to drive forward progress on behalf of the people. It is so exciting to be in China and Europe has a great opportunity to support and benefit from China's success also.

World Cities Network will return to China this November with our sister organisation World Architecture News to deliver series of workshops, forums, and a conference in Shanghai. The theme of the events is transport: Towards 8 billion - Moving the City. I hope to build upon the good relationships built in Xinjiang and Shanxi and to involve them in our Shanghai programme. 

If you would like more information on these activities, do get in touch.

My thanks to the EU PDSF programme, Juergen Ritter, Nicola Peitersen, and Tony Manwaring for making it possible for me to contribute towards this mission.

Brian Kilkelly

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