22 : China, a laboratory to envision future sustainable cities

22 : China, a laboratory to envision future sustainable cities

Professor Joseph Eugene STIGLITZ, Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences (2001), singled out two major events that will shape, as he sees it, the 21st century: development of American hi-tech industries and Chinese urban development. Chinese cities are continuously growing, 'absorbing' the rural village people who come to the city looking for unskilled jobs in what is sometimes described as the world's factory. Thus, 900 000 villages disappeared between 2000 and 2010, according to the French Embassy services in Beijing and the level of urbanisation will doubtless be in excess of 70% by 2030. Things are changing very rapidly, as it often is often in China. Elsewhere, urbanisation 'took its time'. It took the British 120 years, the French 100 years to reach China's level of urbanization today. The Chinese have achieved their growth in just 22 years!

Could mobility become the black-spot of the sustainable city concept?

Behind the figures above, we have a country that is radically changing its life-style. Luc MOREAUX a UTC graduate lived for 11 years in China, mainly in Shanghai. He witnessed the introduction of private cars*, at the turn of the century, viz., when the Chinese Government authorised purchasing by credit. "In a matter of one month the whole population, it seemed, was on the roads! The city rapidly went from cam to chaos. In the Development Zone of Tianjin, location of the TI Automotive production unit where I personally participated in the launch stages, the local authorities very quickly were forced to install traffic lights everywhere! Pedestrian habits suddenly changed - they were no longer welcome on the roads". Urban pollution rose, even if the cars purchased by the Chinese were mostly new vehicles. China lends weight to the expression "mass production" and the car sector in China is still flourishing. What strikes everyone is the amount of traffic-jams that occur. "Despite a real effort to develop public transport, notably the Metro, the market explosion of demand for private cars simply was not foreseen", notes Luc MOREAUX, who points for example the under-dimensioned streets and avenues, in regard to current and probable future traffic. In Beijng, all the roads and tunnels that allow you to cross the city's ring-road are totally and systematically jammed at peak hours.

"The situation is catastrophic. In Shanghai, traffic is a shade more fluid. The city authorities took drastic measures to limit the number of cars on the roads. Car number plates are rationed, and their unit cost can reach 10 000 euros! In Beijing they are subject to a lottery. Some buyers get round the rules by buying a vehicle in some neighbouring area, but in this case they are only allow to drive during peak hours; I myself left China in 2012 because I felt I was nearing saturation with giant cities, so far away from Nature. From the city of Shanghai, I had to drive for 3 hours before I could get to the nearest bamboo forests - which, by the way, are magnificent!"


Rationed electricity and water

Before returning to France, Luc MOREAUX worked for 3 years in the aluminium sector, Aliplat. "The Chinese Government is gradually increasing its pressure on the enterprises in terms of environmental compliance, notably in regard to pollutants and energy consumption. In 2010, for example, electricity was largely rationed, leading to a 25% drop in our production turnover. Pursuing this trend, China will be able to present acceptable results at the Cancun Climate Change Conference ..." And, if a given factory site does not comply with permitted rationing quotas, they have to tread carefully! The local authorities can remotely create an outage of the electric power supply via a GSM device attached directly to the factory's transformer station. This indeed happened to one of Luc's neighbours, who was duly "punished" for several weeks! Similarly to electricity, water consumption is a source of concern to the Chinese authorities and water occasionally has to be rationed.

Regarding waste disposal, most of this ends up in more or less official dumping areas. "A lot remains to be done. But, for both economic and environmental reasons, China must develop more efficient industrial processes - the authorities are progressing in this direction. This also opens a huge market prospect with openings and opportunities that could prove attractive to our engineering companies specialists in process optimisation. The Chinese in this respect are very pragmatic. When they go into a given market, they immediately want "the very best"".

Luc MOREAUX would now like to offer his skills and experience to a French company that desires to develop internationally. "Having worked in several countries now, in Europe and in Asia, I think I have the know-how and the cultural acumen to be able to address the question of setting up a subsidiary or to build partnerships outside France. After 11 years in Asia, and mostly in China, I am still amazed at the degree to which the Chinese Central Political Bureau controls the country. The Central Government is very proactive and has all the means it needs to act accordingly. China knows full well that it must pay attention to the environment. To have created a research laboratory on the urban environment seemed a highly appropriate move." Luc is referring here to Complexcity, a joint laboratory created with the University of Shanghai as the local partner, working on "data and sciences" appertaining to the concept of sustainable cities.

The sustainable city concept as a project

To accommodate expected urban explosion, China has concocted a plan called " "Smart Cities". According to the China Daily (see below), no less than 154 cities have launched calls to tender in keeping with the smart city philosophy, which potentially makes China the largest smart city market on Earth, estimated to be worth 159 billion US$ by yr 2015! Non-Chinese companies have the opportunity to join this promising market, with a double proviso: 1° that they identify the right local partners and 2° that they get to understand Chinese cities per se. This is what the Complexcity research laboratory is working. In this dossier, we present details of the project as well as of two ongoing research projects.