China’s Green & Smart Opportunity

This is a guest post by CC Huang, Policy Analyst at Energy Innovation, and Hal Harvey CEO of Energy Innovation. To view the post in Mandarin, please click here

What makes a great city? The breadth and diversity of the C40 network might suggest that the unique circumstance of each city’s development makes it difficult to generalize. And yet years of urban planning experience have allowed experts to extract some basic principles on what a great city entails. Great cities have great parks. Great cities have fantastic public transit systems. Great cities are built for people, not cars. Great cities are sustainable.

In the next 15 to 20 years, some 300 million people in China will move to cities, roughly the population of the United States. This gives China an incredible opportunity to build dynamic, livable cities that will benefit generations to come. Ahead of the COP21 meeting in Paris, China’s publically declared commitments on how it would reduce emissions in the coming decades had a substantial focus on urbanization, stating that China will “embark on a new pattern of urbanization.”

So what will this “new pattern” look like for China? China Development Bank Capital, in partnership with Energy Innovation and Energy Foundation China, recently introduced a set of guidelines to help define China’s new model for urbanization. The Green & Smart Urban Development Guidelines, launched at the Wuhan Low Carbon Development Forum in November, capture some of the most important lessons learned from global experience on how to build a great city, tailored to China’s unique environmental, economic, and social conditions.

Pulling from many examples across leading C40 cities like Stockholm and Portland, the Green & Smart Guidelines are based on the principle that a few key actions taken by urban planners can help create a great city. The graphic below explains our approach in incorporating good policy design principles into each of the 12 guidelines in order to ensure they are beneficial, measureable and practical. Designed as a tool for cities, the guidelines also provide a quantitative benchmark to help urban planners and others in city government fulfill the criteria.

For Chinese cities struggling with congestion and air pollution, the Green & Smart Guidelines offer an alternative to a car-dependent model of urbanization. Good design can reduce air pollution, noise, and energy waste; it increases the attractiveness of neighborhoods and can make a city more prosperous.

The elements of good design are straightforward, but they require a serious political commitment. Urban growth boundaries cut sprawl and traffic, and save farmland—but they mean cities have to learn how to do infill rather than greenfield development. Smaller blocks and mixed-use make walking and biking far more attractive, and make cities more accessible to those without cars, but they require urban planners to have more complex, finely grained districts. A serious commitment to non-motorized transit and public transit can make these modes into first-class options if urban officials are determined to make it so.

In other words, each of these design choices makes a big difference, but each requires a willingness to break old patterns and urban leaders who are fully committed to building livable cities. 

In creating this work, we were standing on shoulders of giants—the planners, thinkers, architects, and public officials who have tested these ideas. There has been immense interest in China to set in motion sustainable urbanization patterns. We hope that the Green & Smart Guidelines can offer clarity on the path forward for local governments and urban developers. This is the moment for China to capitalize on a fantastic opportunity to make its cities ‘great’ through green and smart urban growth.

China Development Bank Capital (CDBC) is the equity division of China Development Bank, the largest sovereign financier of urbanization in China. CDBC is currently investing in over 40 large-scale urbanization projects in China, with more than a hundred projects in the pipeline.