Analysis of sustainable urban development approaches in China

Publication date: 

Tuesday, 26 November 2013


  • Research paper


External to ACUI

Project theme: 

Habitat International, Volume 41, January 2014, Pages 24–32. China already has more numerous and larger cities than ever before. If the current trend holds, by 2025 it will have a predicted 1 billion of urban population and 8 megacities, each containing 10 million residents or more. China is facing enormous challenges when it comes to balancing rapid economic development with social development, sustainable use of resources and environmental protection in its fast-growing urban areas. Of the 10 most polluted cities in the world, 7 are in China. To meet these challenges, China has become a vast living laboratory for experiments on sustainable urban development. This paper reviews the use and development of city concepts and approaches regarding sustainable urban development in China. The large number of different concepts used appears to be partly due to institutional reasons and partly because they involve gradual changes in national policies. However, the data indicate that the concepts are generally becoming more comprehensive in relation to sustainable development, including social and heritage aspects.
The most common barrier to the development of sustainable cities in China is still lack of clear visions, targets and indicators for sustainable development. More holistic approaches are needed for integrated urban planning, such as that used in Tangshan Bay Eco-city, a joint project between Sweden and China. This paper proposes the use of metabolic thinking and eco-cycle models derived from the discipline of Industrial Ecology to support urban planners in developing more sustainable and resource-efficient urban pathways. This will require closer cooperation between academics and practitioners and better monitoring of projects. Finally, it will be important to identify ways to scale up successful interventions in the urban area, rather than just moving from one innovative pilot project to the next.