China's explosive urban growth in recent years is one of the mesmerizing phenomena of the 21st century. Equally compelling - to planners, real estate developers and environmentalists, among others - are the country's strategies for managing its staggering pace of development.
As the inaugural speaker in the new "Lunchtime Learning Circle" series, the Steven L. Newman Real Estate Institute tapped Professor Shirong Li, a veteran of the construction industry, local government and academia, who speaks with equal authority about both sides of the equation.
Currently a deputy director of the Foreign Trade and Economic Relations Commission for the southwestern city of Chongqing, the fastest growing urban region in the world, Doctor Li oversees the foreign consulting companies doing business in the design and construction arenas of the infrastructure and housing industries. Often described as China's Chicago, the inland city has experienced double-digit economic growth for the past several years, with up to 500,000 farmers moving to the city each year and the addition of 20 to 30 million square meters of residential floor space to accommodate them and other new residents annually. The only inland free-trade zone in China, Chongqing is a major hub for Chinese exports, including laptop computers.
To balance the region's rapid expansion of infrastructure, industry and people, the government has adopted sustainability plans to manage air, water, land and noise pollution, Li said. These measures include a 24 billion yuan investment in relocating and modernizing the city's steel factories, the deployment of bus and taxi fleets powered by natural gas, and sustained tree planting, among others. Li noted that the region had recorded a 77 percent improvement in air quality since 1998, despite its growth.
She added that development is highly orchestrated within zones of the city, and that the government has called for the creation of a significant amount of affordable housing. Agricultural areas outside of the city, important for the economy, have been maintained for food production.
"We look at Chongqing as an experimental zone - as a demonstration for the whole of China," said Li, a former vice mayor of the city's Shapingba District and a longtime professor at Chongqing University. "Because we are late to begin developing, we are better able to absorb new technologies that make us more sustainable."
It is an experiment that has the rapt attention of policy makers across the globe, noted Jack Nyman, director of the Newman Institute, as he kicked off the distinguished speaker series.
"With more than half the world's population now living in cities and urbanization projected to continue worldwide, the question of how China manages growth is not just fascinating in its own right; it may offer important lessons for the rest of us," Nyman said.