City leaders from one of China’s largest provinces are visiting the University of Chicago this week for a crash course on urban sustainability, including sustainability issues in transportation, regional planning, climate change, urban infrastructure and historic preservation.
The weeklong course, which began Sept. 2, is part of the Paulson Institute’s Program on Sustainable Urbanization, which seeks to promote training, education and international collaboration on economic growth and environmental preservation in Chinese cities.
China’s urban population has risen by more than 500 million, the equivalent of all North American nations combined, in the past three decades. By 2030, China’s cities are expected to contain about a billion people—about 70 percent of the country’s population, and perhaps one-eighth of humanity.
“We strongly believe that China’s historic effort to urbanize is an event that will shape the 21st century,” said Leigh Wedell, chief sustainability officer at the Paulson Institute. “Therefore, it is important to engage with those on the front lines of the urbanization effort: the mayors. By deepening mayors’ understanding of sustainable urban practices and ways they can implement these over time, we will help them provide more energy- and resource-efficient cities, as well as a better livelihood for Chinese citizens.”
In an effort to arm Chinese mayors with the latest thinking on sustainable urbanization, the Paulson Institute inaugurated this annual training program in 2013 with 25 municipal officials from the capital city of Beijing. The Institute launched the initiative in cooperation with the Beijing-based China Association of Mayors and the China Center for International Economic Exchanges. The Paulson Institute, established in 2011, promotes global environmental protection and sustainable economic growth in the United States and China, fostering broader understanding between the two countries.
This year’s delegation, consisting of 12 mayors, vice mayors and officials, comes from Guangdong, a southern province that has been at the forefront of China’s transition to a market economy.
The three-part training, which combines theory and practice, began in late August with lectures at Tsinghua University in Beijing, where Chinese officials and urban experts briefed the leaders on the central government’s new blueprints and policies on urbanization.
The classroom instruction continues this week at the Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies. Participants are learning about the history of industrialization and urban development in Chicago, and the policy challenges facing U.S. cities in land management, housing, urban density and transportation.
Additionally, Karen Weigert, chief sustainability officer for the City of Chicago, and Luis Monterrubio of the Chicago Department of Housing and Economic Development are scheduled to update participants on Chicago’s efforts in sustainability and housing. Jeff Malehorn, CEO of World Business Chicago, will talk about the flourishing business and educational partnerships between Chicago and China.
Given the group’s strong interest in “edge development”—integrating suburbs or peripheral districts with the city center—the Institute has arranged on-site meetings with officials at Motorola Solutions in Schaumburg, UL in Northbrook and with Wanxiang America, Inc. in Elgin, who will share how businesses and local governments work together on urban issues such as transportation and the environment.
The Chinese leaders will also be invited to participate in a tour of Chicago, which organizers hope can inspire new ideas. Last year, a senior city official from Beijing took a bike tour of the Chicago lakefront. Wedell said the official became so impressed with Chicago’s bike path and the vibrancy it contributed to the community that he revamped plans for a major roadway adjacent to a river in his Beijing district, deciding to set aside additional space for a park and bike paths.
“These are the types of small changes that can have a major impact in the long run,” Wedell said.
Since the delegates hail from the coastal province of Guangdong, they will also fly to Miami to observe successful urban sustainability projects there.
“The environmental conditions in Miami closely parallel those of many Guangdong cities and they face similar challenges, such as flooding, coastal resilience, tropical storms and freshwater supply management,” said Wedell. “The Chinese mayors will learn about the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact—a multi-county partnership that addresses the causes of climate change and mitigates its consequences.”
Miami leaders also will showcase their past efforts in protecting the city’s cultural and historical heritage. The preservation of historical sites during rapid economic development is a challenge facing many Chinese cities.