UNC and Program on Chinese Cities Scholars: A Learning Partnership

Shenzen

An urban village approved for redevelopment in Shenzen. Photos by Bill Rohe.

“The challenges facing China’s cities and metropolitan regions are daunting in scale and complexity; without exaggeration, the lives of millions will depend on how well China manages the continued growth of its cities in coming years,” says Yan Song, professor of city and regional planning and director of the UNC Program on Chinese Cities (PCC). Since 2008, Song and her colleagues at UNC and partner universities in China have joined together for an exchange of ideas to benefit planners in China and the U.S. In 2016 alone, Song and the PCC hosted 56 scholars.

In response to invitations from former PCC scholars, Bill Rohe, Cary C. Boshamer Distinguished Professor and director of the UNC Center for Urban and Regional Planning, gave five lectures and toured four cities in China from June 12-22, 2017. “The sheer amount of construction happening in China is staggering,” said Rohe. “Although I’d been to China before, this trip allowed me to see the changes since then and experience first-hand the scale and complexity of the issues facing my Chinese colleagues.”

Rohe’s lectures included a comparison of affordable housing policies in China and the U.S., the impacts of work requirements on public housing residents in the U.S., reestablishing connectivity in urban revitalization, and a comparative look at urban revitalization in the two countries. He participated in the 11th International Association for Chinese Planning Conference at Harbin and visited the Central University of Finance and Economics in Beijing, the University of Shenzhen and Hong Kong.

This exchange was made possible by the connections made through the PCC, whose scholars address a variety of topics, including sustainable environment and energy; land use and transportation planning; urban redevelopment and its social equity implications; economic development policy; property rights, infrastructure planning and government finance.

The PCC is an initiative within UNC’s Center for Urban & Regional Studies. It conducts research and training aimed at better understanding the impacts of rapid urban growth on China’s built and natural environments. The Program explores ways to make China’s urbanization process more equitable, transparent, and socially and ecologically sustainable.

Below are some photographs taken during Rohe’s visit (click image to enlarge).

Bike&Place: A New Modeling Tool to Help Planners Help Cyclists

Washington Street, Houston, Mississippi: Streetscape rendering after implementing downtown, trail-oriented growth. Image Courtesy Brian Morton.

You’d like to bike downtown for your job, to go shopping or to attend an event. Those first few blocks near home seem safe enough, but you get a bit worried when traffic gets heavier. It turns out, you’re not alone in how traffic stress affects your willingness to bicycle. CURS researcher Brian J. Morton has developed a tool that will help town planners design more cyclist-friendly networks around signature places in their community.

In a recent study for the Southeastern Transportation Research, Innovation, Development and Education Center (STRIDE), Morton used an open-source software package to create an easy-to-use travel demand model for use by planners working in towns and small cities. Morton’s goal was to build a product that predicts demand for bicycle travel by “interested but concerned” cyclists. Called Bike&Place, Morton’s tool helps planners increase bicycle accessibility.

Roger Geller, bicycle coordinator for Portland, Oregon, created a typology of four kinds of cyclists: strong and fearless; enthused and confident; interested but concerned; and “no way no how.” In a national survey, participants were categorized into those four types in the following percentages: 7 percent; 5 percent; 51 percent; and 37 percent. The 51 percent of “interested but concerned” noted that they “like riding a bicycle…and they would like to ride more. But, they are afraid to ride….Very few of these people regularly ride bicycles… [and they] will not venture out onto the arterials to the major commercial and employment destinations they frequent.…They would ride if they felt safer on the roadways—if cars were slower and less frequent, and if there were more quiet streets with few cars and paths without any cars at all.”

Three small towns in Mississippi were used to develop and test Bike&Place. In Houston, Mississippi (population 3,623), Bike&Place estimates that less than 2 percent of the town’s residential neighborhoods have bicycle access to Courthouse Square, one of the town’s focal points. With an improved network, bicycle access to Courthouse Square could increase to 83 percent.

Morton hopes Bike&Place will make it easier for planners to map traffic stress problem areas and find solutions to make biking less stressful for the large numbers of interested but concerned cyclists and increase the likelihood that they will bike to important community locations. The project report, “Bike&Place: A New Tool for Designing Active, Place-Making Transportation Networks – An Exploratory Study,” provides detailed instructions on how to adapt Bike&Place to other places. For more information on using this tool, contact Morton here.

Editor’s Note: On June 28, 2017, Morton gave a Bike&Place presentation at the 2017 National Regional Transportation Conference in Denver, CO, sponsored by the National Association of Development Organizations

Chinese Cities and the Use of Urban Planning to Help Control Air Quality

Rapid growth and greatly expanded motor vehicle ownership and usage have contributed to serious air pollution across China. In 2014 alone, Beijing endured more than twenty days with almost ten times the national ambient air quality limit, causing public health issues. Can better urban form reduce air pollution?

Photo by Bill Rohe

In collaboration with four UNC Program on Chinese Cities (PCC) visiting scholars, Director of the PCC and CURS Faculty Fellow Yan Song recently published a paper in the Journal of Planning Education and Research evaluating this question.

Based on evidence gathered from 157 Chinese cities, this study analyzed the effects of aspects of urban form metrics on concentrations of ambient pollutants. Greater population density, more centralized development and better street accessibility were found to have a significant correlation with lower concentrations of air pollutants, while a higher level of urban sprawl may have a negative impact on air quality.

“The influence of urban form on pollution,” said Song, “is comparable to the effects of other factors like weather conditions.” Cities with urban sprawl are more likely to contain higher levels of air pollution, which should draw wide attention from local governments and planners in China. “These findings indicate that urban form could play a modest, but important, role in improving air quality for Chinese cities,” noted Song.

Click here to read the full here.

Better Cities, Better Growth: Lessons for India’s Urban Opportunity

Better Cities, Better GrowthIndia is experiencing an urban transformation with its urban population reaching 420 million in 2015 (33 percent of total). This is expected to nearly double by 2050 to 800 million, with close to 400 million additional people living in towns and cities by 2050 (50 percent of total). By 2031, 75 percent of India’s national income is expected to come from cities and a majority of new jobs will be created in urban areas.

“Given the rapidity of change and long-lived nature of urban form and infrastructure, the decisions that India’s policy makers make in the next five to fifteen years will lock in its urban pathway for decades to come,” said CURS Faculty Fellow Meenu Tewari, associate professor, Department of City and Regional Planning at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “There are real choices to be made.”

Global evidence, gathered in a year-long effort by a team led by Tewari, suggests that an extensive, “sprawled” model of urban growth—with cities oriented around the private vehicle rather than people—can have significant economic, social and environmental costs which undermine prosperity. On the other hand, more compact, connected and coordinated cities can be more productive, socially-inclusive, resilient, cleaner and safer, unleashing the benefits of urban agglomeration.

Meenu Tewari

Meenu Tewari

A new synthesis report by Tewari for the India New Climate Economy Partnership focuses on how India can aim to foster a better urbanization — one that promotes more rapid economic transformation, improves the quality of life of city dwellers and curbs the potential harmful spillovers of urbanization, such as congestion, wasteful energy use and unwanted pollution.

The report draws on an innovative blend of nighttime lights (satellite) data and census, environmental and economic data to paint a picture of recent trends in India’s urbanization and the relationships that exist in Indian cities between types of urban expansion and transport connectivity, and economic performance. It looks at the potential nationwide costs of a “sprawled” model of urbanization, as well as noting some of the current policies and institutional conditions that create incentives for such a model of urbanization. Using case studies of four Indian cities—Bangalore, Indore, Pune and Surat—the report delves more deeply into how this model of urban growth might exacerbate key deficits in basic urban services. It concludes by suggesting policy recommendations to accelerate a better form of urbanization.