BBC World Service talks to UNC’s Yan Song about “Beijing’s Big Plan”

Xiong’an, a small rural town in China, is set to become a city of 5 million people over the next decade. That’s the government’s plan at least. But could the whole thing end up as an expensive white elephant?

Ed Butler visits the site of this mega project two hours south of Beijing to discover some excited locals and a rather poorly attended fashion show. Could this bucolic setting become the next Shenzhen or Pudong? We hear some scepticism from Yan Song, professor, UNC Department of City and Regional Planning at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and from economist Michael Pettis of the Guanghua School of Management at Peking University.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3cstx0q

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).

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.

Post-Disaster Recovery Plans after China’s Wenchuan Earthquake

At 2:28 pm on May 12, 2008, the Wènchuān dà dìzhèn (literally “Great Wenchuan earthquake”) registered 8.0 on the Richter magnitude scale. As the 21st deadliest earthquake of all time, the Wenchuan (also known as Sichuan) earthquake took more than 69,000 lives and left about 4.8 million people homeless. On November 6, 2008, China announced that it would spend about $146.5 billion over the next three years to rebuild areas ravaged by the earthquake as part of the Chinese economic stimulus program.

Wenchuan

Natural disasters such as this have long been considered one of the major challenges confronting humankind. In recent years, both the incidence and frequency of natural disasters have increased. It is also evident that losses due to natural catastrophic events have increased dramatically over decades.

In this context, post-disaster recovery practices have become more common and research on disaster recovery within the academic community is also increasing. Many of these studies suggest that urgency and uncertainty in the aftermath of disasters lead to short-term decision-making that does not address, or may even amplify, pre-disaster social, economic and environmental weaknesses, which are the main challenges to long-term sustainability. Therefore, it is essential to incorporate sustainability into the disaster recovery process.

In a recent article published in the Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, Center for Urban and Regional Studies (CURS) Faculty Fellow and Director of the Program on Chinese Cities Yan Song, Chaosu Li, a UNC Department of City and Regional Planning doctoral candidate, and their colleagues examined 16 local recovery plans developed in response to the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake.

Through a CURS-supported, National Science Foundation-funded grant, planning documents from the affected areas were analyzed and evaluated, and in-depth interviews with government officials, planners and researchers were conducted. Song and her colleagues found that the local recovery plans do not appear to have sufficiently incorporated concepts of sustainability.

The severely devastated town of Jundao in Sichuan Province during the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake. (Wikipedia photo)

Photo above: The severely devastated town of Jundao in Sichuan Province during the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake. (Wikipedia photo)

The report’s findings reveal five challenges for incorporating sustainability into disaster recovery plans. These include: limited inclusion of environmental and equity goals; limitations to local planning capacity; insufficient enforcement tools; inadequate stakeholder engagement; and weak interagency coordination.

“The Chinese central government has emphasized ‘eco-reconstruction’ as the overarching goal for disaster recovery after the Wenchuan earthquake,” explained Song. “Nevertheless, disaster recovery goals at the local level were still economics-oriented.”

Song and her colleagues suggest the following four steps to improve the local disaster recovery planning process:

First, efforts must be made to include sustainability within a plan’s visions and goals. Environmental goals and achievements should be evaluated in the promotion of government officials. Policy frameworks should be formalized, with visions translated into goals encompassing different dimensions of sustainability that can be measured and tracked. For instance, to achieve the vision of providing a sustainable future for its citizens, one goal could be “mitigating secondary flood hazards,” with an objective to “reduce peak runoff volume.” These policy frameworks must be shared with other government agencies to support the implementation of policy action items by other agencies.

Second, data-sharing mechanisms should be enhanced. “We recommend that planning departments at city and provincial levels possess backups of basic data for areas that are prone to natural disasters,” said Song. “Basic ecological, geological and socioeconomic data at the local level should be shared across government agencies.”

The road heading to Wenyuan, the epicenter of 2008 Sichuan Earthquake. (Wikipedia photo)

Photo above: The road heading to Wenyuan, the epicenter of 2008 Sichuan Earthquake. (Wikipedia photo)

Third, planning techniques such as hazard exposure analyses, ecological impact analyses and ecological carrying capacity assessments should be applied during the early stages of the plan-making process to ensure sufficient sustainability considerations. “In the Chinese context, where a top-down approach often plays the primary role in guiding urban planning, the central government can lead in designing tools and policy actions for sustainability,” explained Song.

Finally, interagency collaboration is an important way to alleviate the existing fragmentation in governmental structure. In the current local government setting in China, agencies involved in, or responsible for, sustainability-related issues include the Development and Reform Commission, the Department of Environment Protection, the Department of Land Resources and Planning, the Department of Parks and Recreation, the Department of Forestry and Agriculture and the Department of Transportation. Because sustainability touches issues administered by this wide range of agencies, developing a framework for interagency coordination is critical for promoting sustainability.

“It is laudable that China has begun to recognize the importance of sustainability in post-disaster recovery planning,” said Song, “and it is especially notable that sustainability was prominently reflected in State Council policies for post-earthquake reconstruction. While this disaster provided a moment to make a statement about sustainable recovery, it also created a situation in which it was difficult to actually accomplish these goals. It may be that Chinese planning practices are able to achieve greater sustainability in situations that allow for more time and deliberation.”

Working with In-country Chinese Migrant and Low Income Families: Creating and Sustaining Partnerships on the Other Side of the Earth

Mimi Chapman

Mimi Chapman

The UNC Center for Urban and Regional Studies presents:

A Brown Bag Lunch Seminar by Mimi Chapman, Ph.D.
Professor, UNC-Chapel Hill School of Social Work

Reading Room, New East
Tuesday, April 11, 2017, 12:30 – 1:45 PM
Free

Since 2010, Professor Mimi Chapman of the UNC School of Social Work and Professor Meihua Zhu of the East China University of Science and Technology have been working together to understand and address the needs of in-country migrant families and low income families in Shanghai, China. Frequent policy changes in China have made this work challenging and ever-evolving. This talk will describe their work thus far, discuss findings, and plans for future development.

Chapman_China

Mind the Gap: Broken Intercity Highways in China

Dr Xingjian LiuThe UNC Center for Urban and Regional Studies and the Program on Chinese Cities presents:

A Brown Bag Lunch Seminar by Xingjian Liu, Ph.D., Assistant Professor,
Department of Urban Planning and Design, The University of Hong Kong

Reading Room, New East
Tuesday, April 4, 2017, 12:30-1:45 PM

The success of intercity transport planning between Chinese cities is not always guaranteed, with broken intercity trunk roads (BITRs) as a major case in point. BITRs are highways that are: planned but unfinished; usually disconnected near administrative boundaries; and short in distance, but their completion would greatly improve linkages. BITRs have become a persistent and pervasive phenomenon in China. Aiming to shed more critical light on the issue, Dr. Xingjian explores the geographical distribution of BITRs in China and the relationship between BITRs and the underlying socioeconomic, political and geographical factors.

18中国香港马鞍山T7高速公路项目

Are Chinese households becoming more resilient to climate change? Large-sample evidence from the China Health and Nutrition Survey

Clark Gray

Clark Gray

The UNC Center for Urban and Regional Studies presents:

A Brown Bag Lunch Seminar by Clark Gray, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Geography, UNC-Chapel Hill

Reading Room, New East
Friday, March 3, 2017, 12:30-1:45 PM

Dr. Gray will present ongoing research with collaborators on the consequences of climate variability for human health and internal migration in China. This work reveals that heat stress can contribute to undernutrition and displace migrants, but that these effects have declined over time as China has developed and urbanized. The implications of these results for climate adaptation will be discussed.

http://www.josefschulz.de/

Photo: Josef Schulz http://www.josefschulz.de/

Practice of Urban Revival in Shanghai, China

CURS, the Department of City and Regional Planning, and the Program on Chinese Cities presents:

Practice of Urban Revival in Shanghai, China

Gu XiaokunA Brown Bag Lunch Seminar by Gu Xiaokun, Visiting Scholar at the Center for Urban & Regional Studies.

Reading Room, New East
Thursday, February 2, 2017, 12:30-1:45PM

Shanghai has a long history of urban revival, dating back to the 19th century. As the first city in China committed to limiting the total amount of land allocated for construction, Shanghai plays a critical role in informing urban planning and development in China. In her presentation, Dr. Gu will discuss the history of urban revival in Shanghai, highlight several case studies, outline the main policy tools used, and identify new trends in urban revival since 2015.

Biography: Gu Xiaokun is a visiting scholar at the Center for Urban and Regional Studies. She received her Ph.D. at the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences. She was an associate professor at the School of Urban and Regional Planning in Zhejiang Gongshang University from 2008 to 2014. Currently, she is an associate researcher at the Institute of New Rural Development in Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Dr. Gu’s research interests including urban and rural planning, land use policy and rural development, and urban revival.

Professor Zhendong Luo to Give Talk on New Urbanization in China

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Zhendong Luo, an associate professor at Nanjing University and a visiting scholar at CURS’ Program on Chinese Cities, will give a talk entitled “New Urbanization in China from the Bottom Up: The Characteristic Mechanisms & Trends of Rural Urbanization Driven by E-Commerce.” He will speak from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. in New East‘s Reading Room this Thursday, April 7. The talk is free, and light refreshments will be served.

Rural urbanization driven by e-commerce is a relatively new process in China. This process is systematically restructuring rural economic, social, and spatial environments, influencing the non-agricultural transformation of employment and sparking comprehensive modernization of country life and intensive urbanization of rural land. The advantages of rural areas—including low-cost entrepreneurial environments, specialty agricultural products, and local non-agricultural industry—and advances in e-commerce allow rural areas to overcome geographic constraints and join the national and global economy.

In his talk, Professor Luo will discuss these changes and how the importance of the capital and knowledge heading to the countryside help support rural sustainable development. For more information, please contact Todd Owen, CURS’ Associate Director, at towen@email.unc.edu.