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| RESEARCH: SUSTAINABLE URBAN DEVELOPMENT: Nanning conference launches EU-China dialogue on urban development

    China builds more residential and office space in a year than Europe does in a decade. The huge risks linked to the PRC’s prodigious rate of urbanisation – with more than 10 million people flooding into the country’s cities every year – demands a disciplined urban development to sustain quality of life while respecting the environment. Bringing together ‘urban science’ with urban planners in China and elsewhere was the goal of the recent EU-sponsored conference in this southern Chinese city.

    Nanning conference launches EU-China dialogue on urban development
    © ICLEI 2005
    Getting an ‘open loop’ of knowledge and experience started between local urban planners and researchers was the main goal of the 9-11 November event, the “Nanning International Conference on Sustainable Urban Development”. More than 320 government officials and scientific personnel from Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe attended the gathering, which was co-sponsored and funded by the European Commission and the PRC’s Ministry of Construction.

    Geared to making R&D more relevant to the needs of planners and boosting knowledge transfers between policymakers and researchers, participants addressed some of the essential urban sustainability issues facing policymakers today, namely:

    • the sustainability aspects to urban governance;
    • environmental management and planning;
    • land-use planning
    • housing and construction.

    China’s rocketing urbanisation

    While informed city planning is needed everywhere across the globe, it is a particularly pressing issue in China, whose urban population in 2005 reached a staggering 542 million people, or 40 percent of the total population. By 2050 more than 70 percent of all Chinese will be living in cities, according to UN estimates. In the next five years, for example, China aims to build more than 300 new cities, which implies huge demands on the country’s resources. Beijing alone must come up with 10 million square metres of new housing every year just to accommodate the influx of people moving to the capital.

    Urbanisation at this rate will place huge demands on China’s limited resources and an enormous strain on its environment if not guided by careful and rigorous urban planning based on sustainable development.

    “There is much China could learn from our own experience in Europe, and by that I mean our continent’s mistakes as well as its achievements,” said Pierre Valette, Acting Director for environment at DG Research, who attended the conference.

    Profiting from Europe’s experience, and mistakes…

    “For instance, in the last 20 years Europe went for urban growth based on low-density suburban neighbourhoods that has created a crippling dependency on cars and oil imports, congested our roads and polluted the air; and caused a loss of valuable farmland and green areas. Rather than repeat these mistakes, China and other developing economies have a chance to build more people-oriented, sustainable cities”, said Eric Ponthieu, head of sector for urban environment at DG Research.     

    Participants had plenty of opportunities to debate this challenge in all its myriad aspects during the conference. During the first day they reviewed the event’s three main themes of urban governance and management, sustainable land use planning and sustainable housing and construction. Day 2 was devoted to workshops on ways to implement the results of urban sustainable research, while Day 3 offered visits to urban management projects in Nanning and a wrap up of all the conference’s meetings and discussions.

    The European Commission also took the opportunity to showcase European research and know-how at the conference by presenting 15 Framework Programme projects relevant to urban planning, including two on sustainable land use.

    The Nanning conference was inspired by a joint research initiative supporting human settlements that was launched by UN-HABITAT and DG-Research at the September 2004 World Urban Forum in Barcelona. The conference’s conclusions will be disseminated to the scientific community and local governments to better shape the world’s urban environment.

    Related research themes


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    • Eric Ponthieu, European Commission,
      Head of Sector, Urban Environment;
      Phone: +32.2.296 99 45;
    • European Commission, DG Research