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A new green chapter for China’s fabled lakeside city

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Hangzhou has seen its share of history. A millennium ago, the city was the seat of two separate dynasties for over 200 years, putting it in storied company with China’s six other ancient capitals. In 1972, during his “week that changed the world”, Richard Nixon strolled the shores of the city’s West Lake with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai. Their discussions by the water spurred China’s historic economic opening.

Forty-four years later, another meeting between Chinese and American leaders in Hangzhou marked a profound global change. It was here that President Xi Jinping and President Obama announced that both of their countries had ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change.

These days, Hangzhou is not content to be a mere witness to history. Instead, the city is writing its own story using broad green strokes.

Hangzhou is rapidly modernizing its public transit network. In 2008, it was Hangzhou that launched China’s first bike sharing system, which is now the world’s largest.

Its bus network is becoming greener as well. Seventy per cent of public buses in the city are now electric. It’s no small investment. Each bus costs US$145,000, which is about double the price of a conventional public bus.

But the outlay is well worth it, according to Vice Mayor Hu Wei. “The most important thing is that we can protect the environment and fight air pollution,” he says.

Even though the initial cost is high, over the lifetime of the bus the cost is the same or less compared to a conventional equivalent. And they are getting cheaper. Since the buses were introduced in 2014, operating costs have dropped by between 30–40 per cent.

“The challenge is to convince other businesses like tour companies to use these greener buses,” says the mayor.

The subway network is expanding as well. It already covers some 170 kilometres, but the city is building new lines that will bring it closer to 500. While the metro is currently more expensive than the bus, the expansion will allow the government to bring costs down for commuters.

In the face of persistent air pollution, investments are not the only tool at the government’s disposal. The government is also taking hard decisions. In 2015, a 59-year-old steel plant was shut down to improve air quality. The government estimates the closure will prevent 3,000 tonnes of soot from entering the skies in the city.

Speaking at World Environment Day celebrations in Hangzhou, Che Jun, the Party Secretary of Hangzhou’s home province of Zhejiang, painted a bleak picture of the area where the plant was located. “Air was permeated with a pungent smell. All of the rivers in the areas were strangers to fish and shrimp. All of Hangzhou was a victim,” he said.

Concerns over the economic impact of the shutdown were short-lived. The company “leveraged the tailwind of the digital economy… and was reborn” said Che. “In 2018, their profit hit CNY3.53 billion [US$511 million].”

The former home of the steel plant is now part of the 65 per cent tree cover that Hangzhou enjoys. This has heralded a natural revival. “This spring we saw tens of thousands of egrets coming to the city,” said Che. “Now, egrets flying against the setting sun has become an iconic image of the city this year.”

Hangzhou’s green rejuvenation may be nowhere more in evidence than Xixi National Wetland Park, a 2,800-acre integrated urban, agricultural and cultural wetland in the west of the city. Though the wetland has been a natural part of the landscape for almost 2,000 years, the government pushed for its revival in 2005. The park has come back to life, with the number of bird species seen in the park has increased from 79 before the rejuvenation to 181 today. And it’s a functional revival as well. As water circulates between Xixi, the Qiantang River and the UNESCO-listed Grand Canal, the wetland acts as a natural kidney, filtering pollutants from the water.

More than 700 years ago, the Venetian explorer Marco Polo said that while heaven may contain paradise, Earth had Suzhou and Hangzhou.

Today, city officials in Hangzhou are doing everything they can to maintain their claim to this earthbound eden.

UN Environment

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Urban Development

Regional City Networks: Bringing the 4IR to Small and Medium-Sized Cities

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The World Economic Forum is launching two regional networks of cities in Latin America and South Asia to share knowledge on smart city development while protecting public interests related to privacy, security and sustainability. Under the umbrella of the Forum’s G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance the two city networks will connect leading pioneer cities from the Global Alliance with smaller cities in the region.

Smart city technology improves sustainability, resiliency and quality of life, but about 50% of the world’s urban population live in smaller or medium-sized cities. With cyberattacks on municipalities rising and digital technologies becoming central to economic competitiveness, these cities need to invest in new technologies, but have less capacity than their larger global counterparts to implement the ensure effective governance.

Set up in Medellín and Mumbai, the networks will be hosted by the Centres for the Fourth Industrial Revolution in Colombia and India, and efforts will be supported by partners of the World Economic Forum and the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (C4IR) Global Network. The roll out follows the successful establishment of this model in a number of Japanese cities, led by the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Japan.

Cities in Latin America and India will be invited to meet regularly to analyse smart city policies and will receive technical support from the Forum’s network of global experts. Founding members of the Regional Alliance for Latin America are Bogotá, Colombia; Brasília, Brazil; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Córdoba, Argentina; Medellín, Colombia and Mexico City, Mexico. Founding members of the National Alliance for India are Bengaluru, Bhopal, Faridabad, Hyderabad, Indore, Kohima, Mangalore, Raipur, Shillong and Thane.

“When we launched the G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance during Japan’s presidency, we could see city governments asking for global best practices that would allow them to compete in a global, tech-driven economy. But we also knew that smaller cities would struggle to implement these practices without local support,” said Chizuru Suga, Head of the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Japan. “That is why we launched the global alliance in parallel with a national initiative to unite cities across Japan for adapting and sharing global best practices.”

“For over a year now, Kaga City has been sharing knowledge with 12 other cities to make sure we have the policies we need to deploy technology quickly and safely,” said Riku Miyamoto, Mayor of Kaga City. “We can learn from global best practices and still get a local perspective on issues that matter to our residents.”

“Latin America is home to some of the most exciting initiatives in smart cities today, but that success is not evenly spread,” said José Manuel Restrepo, Minister of Trade, Industry and Tourism of Colombia. “Colombia is honoured to take on the task of coordinating the regional activities of the G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance in Latin America, so that cities across the region can benefit from both global and regional knowledge exchange.”

“India already has one of the world’s most ambitious smart city programmes, driven by the Government of India’s Smart Cities Mission,” said Purushottam Kaushik, Head of the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution India. “Now with input from the G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance, Indian cities will have access to the world’s foremost expertise in smart city policy-making.”

“India’s Smart Cities Mission is dedicated to being at the forefront of policy innovation in data and technology for the urban sector. With the launch of the National Urban Digital Mission we hope to scale new heights,” said Kunal Kumar, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, Government of India. “The G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance being extended to regional alliances in India, led by the World Economic Forum, is a pathway in that direction.”

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Urban Development

Moscow to host international online forum – the Smart Cities Moscow

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On May, 25-26 Moscow will host the Smart Cities Moscow, international online forum dedicated to the development of smart cities and current topics of adaptation of the urban environment to the realities of the “new normal”.

The forum hosts over 50 speakers, including heads of administrations of the world’s largest megacities, professors and experts from the world’s leading educational institutions, business representatives and international experts in the field of informatization and development of smart cities.

Smart Cities Moscow Forum will bring together speakers from countries and cities boasting the best urban infrastructure in the world, based on advanced IT technologies. The online format of the event provides a unique opportunity for millions of people from around the world to join sessions and participate in discussions. The event will become a prologue to the Smart Cities Moscow offline forum, which will be held in 2022.

As part of a series of online conferences, international and Russian experts will discuss how large metropolitan areas are being transformed in the modern conditions, dictated by the society and environment. Speakers will share the best success stories for the development of healthcare, city transport logistics, telecommunications, culture and education of the city.

The business program will cover three major areas: Smart city’s infrastructure and technologies, Smart City for a Smart Living, and Smart city’s sustainability. The experts will discuss urban development in the post-covid period, changes in the sustainable development strategy, infrastructure challenges and the deployment of IoT, Big Data, and AI technologies. The sessions will also focus on city renewable energy, creation of a favorable urban environment, and other topical issues. Various communication formats are provided within the framework of the forum: from panel discussions and expert sessions, to show-cases and case studies.

The Forum is supported by The Government of Moscow, Department of Information Technologies.

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Urban Development

Cities and Pandemics: Towards a more just, green and healthy future

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A new report on pandemics and cities from UN-Habitat, points the way to how hard-hit urban centres can reduce the impact of future outbreaks and become more equitable, healthy and environmentally friendly.

Cities and Pandemics: Towards a more just, green and healthy future’, launched on Tuesday, describes how urban areas have been at the forefront of the COVID-19 crisis. 

“95 per cent of all cases” were recorded in cities in the first months of the pandemic, Maimunah Mohd Sharif, UN-Habitat Executive Director, said. 

Cities on the frontline 

“Throughout this pandemic, it has been up to local governments and communities to move quickly and decisively to stop the spread of COVID-19 and ensure an effective response,” Ms. Sharif added.

Despite these pressures, many local governments and community leaders responded quickly and effectively to prevent the spread of the pandemic and mitigate its effects. 

The UN-Habitat report recommends actions for a sustainable recovery based on evidence from more than 1,700 cities.

Life and death inequalities

It found that patterns of inequality, due to a lack of access to basic services, poverty and overcrowded living conditions, have been key destabilising factors in increasing the scale and impact of COVID-19. 

Eduardo Moreno, Head of Knowledge and Innovation at UN-Habitat, said that due to the pandemic, an estimated “120 million people in the world will be pushed into poverty and living standards will reduce by 23 per cent”. 

“The conclusion is that income matters”, he added.

According to the text, urban leaders and planners must rethink how people move through and in cities, using lessons learned from the last year of COVID-19. 

This includes an increased focus at the local level on planning neighbourhoods and communities that are multi-functional and inclusive. 

Planning, affordability

The report explores how well-planned cities combining residential and commercial with public spaces, along with affordable housing, can improve public health, the local economy and the environment. 

It calls for cities to be at the forefront of moves towards a Social Contract between governments, the public, civil society and private sector.  

The new social contract should “explore the role of the state and cities to finance universal basic income, universal health insurance, universal housing”, said Sharif.

For one real-world example, Claudia Lopez Hernandez, Mayor of Bogota, explained how in the Colombian capital, their new social contract prioritises women and children. 

It is a “social contract that includes women, that provides them with time, with time to take care of themselves, with time to educate themselves, and with time and education skills to come back to the labour market”. 

“To have self-sustainable women is to have self-sustainable societies”, Hernandez explained.

New priorities

The Report outlines how a new normal can emerge in cities “where health, housing and security are prioritised for the most vulnerable, not only out of social necessity, but also from a profound commitment to human rights for all.”  

This requires governments to focus on policies to protect land rights, improve access to water, sanitation, public transport, electricity, health and education facilities and ensure inclusive digital connectivity. 

The Report recommends strengthening access to municipal finance to enable city leaders to build a new urban economy that reduces disaster risk as well as addressing climate change by developing nature-based solutions and investing in sustainable infrastructure to enable low carbon transport. 

The Cities and Pandemics Report makes it clear that the way urban environments recover from the pandemic, will have a major impact on the global effort to achieve a sustainable future for all – in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

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