2020 Roundtable

Spurred by Domestic Challenges, Shanghai University Looks Abroad Delegation Visits Newman Real Estate Institute - May 5, 2009

How can Shanghai University’s School of Real Estate best fulfill its mission in the face of historic challenges?

This was the fundamental question that motivated a delegation from the school to embark upon a visit to the United States. Their stated mission is to exchange information about real estate education and research, learn more about how the U.S. real estate industry functions, and explore opportunities for joint programs.

The delegation’s first stop, on May 1, 2009, was the Newman Real Estate Institute. There the Institute’s director, Jack S. Nyman, hosted a meeting between the delegation and members of his team. That meeting was followed by a business luncheon in Chinatown, attended also by Wellington Chen, Executive Director of Chinatown Partnership and a member of the Institute’s Board of Advisors, as well as a CUNY Trustee. The roundtable discussion ranged widely over several hours and included the subject of Chinatown’s own role as a locus of international influence.

Along with the large question facing the visitors from Shanghai, a second question emerged from the day’s events: in an economy that grows only more globalized, what role might the Newman Institute play in advancing relationships between New York’s real estate industry and its Chinese counterparts, and in expanding a shared body of knowledge and wisdom?

Historic challenges

Shanghai University’s School of Real Estate is tackling challenges of historic dimensions:

China’s immense population has been undergoing the largest domestic migration in the history of the human race, as hundreds of millions of people have moved over the past several decades from rural to urban areas.

Cities’ ability to absorb this influx is shaped by the nature of land ownership: land is owned by the government, not private parties, and a market economy is still developing.

China’s environment has been severely stressed by rapid urbanization and industrialization: air and water pollution, falling water tables, and carbon emissions are of increasing concern. The government is attempting to manage growth within severe environmental constraints.

China’s economy is suffering from the global economic slump, and China now has a glut of university graduates, who are searching for employment in a shrinking labor market: 6 million students will acquire degrees this year; 10 million graduates are now seeking work; it can take up to 3 years for a graduate to find a job.

How in the face of these conditions can Shanghai University’s School of Real Estate best serve its students? its city’s residents? its government’s goals?

Shanghai and New York

Shanghai University, like CUNY, is a large urban university. Unlike CUNY, it is directly managed by the municipal government. Shanghai, like New York, has been an economic powerhouse — a center of finance, commerce, and trade, fabled for its dynamism and a stupendous recent real estate boom. While both cities’ economies have been depressed by the global economic slump, they’re dramatically dissimilar in important respects: the Chinese government exercises more control over that country’s economy, and it controls land ownership and use. Also to be noted: Shanghai has more than twice New York’s population.

Pudong district of Shanghai

Among many economic and regulatory questions the Shanghai delegation is pursuing are these: How is the U.S. real estate industry dealing with current economic conditions? How does the U.S. government regulate the real estate industry and the professionals who work in it? What roles do those professionals play? How do developers operate? How is property managed? How is it taxed? How are values assessed? How are real estate transactions taxed?


A topic of particular interest to the Shanghai delegation and the Newman Institute is sustainability. (The Institute offers a Certificate Program in Sustainability, has integrated sustainability content into other certificate programs, hosts a Sustainability Shoptalk series of public events, and hosts the CUNY Building Performance Lab’s stakeholder consortium.) Sustainability is emerging as a driving force in both New York and Shanghai. But in China it is the Chinese government more than the marketplace that is driving change, the delegates reported.

Of course, China’s pollution problems are in part induced by U.S. consumer demand: Americans, in effect, “export” pollution when they import goods; environmental impacts occur at the place of manufacture. But carbon emissions drive changes to the global climate system. Similarly, the U.S. and Chinese economies are closely linked: reduced U.S. consumer demand directly affects Chinese output and employment. And, China holds a massive amount of U.S. government debt. “China’s problems — and opportunities — are ours, and ours are theirs,” Nyman reflects. “We’re all in this together.”

Fruitful contact, future collaboration

The Shanghai delegations’ efforts to adapt to change and learn from another country’s experience are impressive, Nyman says in reflecting back on the visit. “I applaud them for undertaking this mission. For us at the Institute, remaining responsive to change is a continuing priority. In some respects, our countries remain dramatically different, but as the 21st century proceeds, we’ll be ever more closely linked. We must learn about — and from — each other. I’m enormously pleased this dialogue has opened. I hope it will continue for years to come.”

The delegates’ broad interests — curricula and teaching methodologies and practices, and how the Institute engages with the U.S. real estate industry and pursues research that meets its needs — all point to future collaborations. So does the shared concern for sustainability goals.

A vehicle for future exchanges is CUNY China Programs, a 25-year-old venture that includes faculty and administrative exchanges between CUNY and Shanghai University. CUNY China Programs Coordinator Russell Davis attended the May 1 meeting and luncheon.

Nyman suggests that another vehicle might be the China-U.S. Center for Sustainable Development, an international public-private partnership that aims to accelerate sustainable development in China, the United States, and the rest of the world. Among its supporters are corporations and organizations engaged in real estate. Many other possibilities exist and will be explored.

The participants

Members of the visiting delegation are Xu Yongmou, Dean of the School of Real Estate; Lin Minghui, Vice Dean and Senior Lecturer; Yan Guoliang, head of the Business Management Department; Wang Hongqiang, head of the Construction Engineering Management Department; and Su Qingwei, translator and Program Coordinator, International Office, Shanghai University.

Also attending the formal meeting at the Institute were key Institute staff; its education, research, and strategic communications contractors; and staff from CUNY’s Building Performance Lab, with which the Institute collaborates closely. Joining the party for lunch, along with Wellington Chen, was Gerd Welke, Assistant Professor, Department of Real Estate, Zicklin School of Business, Baruch College, with whom the delegation later met. Welke presented a paper at the 2008 conference hosted by the Asian Real Estate Society.

The delegation’s itinerary also includes the Kelly School of Business at Indiana University in Bloomington, the Department of Economics at the University of Chicago, and a tour of the campus of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.