SYMP 5-5 - Building the three pillars in harmony: The case of urban development in China

Tuesday, August 9, 2016: 10:10 AM
Grand Floridian Blrm C, Ft Lauderdale Convention Center
B. Larry Li, Ecological Complexity and Modeling Laboratory, University of California Riverside, Riverside, CA

In the Anthropocene Era when almost 80% of our usable ecosphere has been conditioned, converted, and consumed by humans, usually without understanding the full consequences of our actions, we appear to be approaching a global “tipping point”, after which we will face a trajectory of declining natural capital, declining services provided by nature, and declining environmental carrying capacity. The history of past civilizations provides ample evidence that Society–Nature disharmonies in localized areas of the planet have contributed to the decline and disappearance of those civilizations.  In our present, highly interconnected and integrated world, any future collapse is likely not to be local, but global.  China has been experiencing large scale and high speed development of urbanization and industrialization since 1978 with annual GDP increase rate of around 9% and urban population ratio from 18% in 1978 to near 55% now. The pace, depth, and magnitude of this transition, while beneficial to local people, has placed severe human ecological stresses on both local and regional life-support ecosystems. Sustainability can be only assured with an understanding of the complex interactions between environmental, economic, political, and socio-cultural factors and with careful planning and management grounded in ecological principles. Here I use China as a case study, to examine their recent changes and practices in large-scale urban planning and developments, especially the green sponge concept and design for a water-resilient, sustainable city.


China is uniquely positioned to show the world how to build a better economic model by shifting its system to improve the wellbeing of the Chinese population while maintaining social stability. These new trends and practices in China appear that the ‘three pillars of sustainability’ – economic, social, and environmental - do not have to be in tension, as is often depicted. Good governance in the Anthropocene requires that these three elements are advanced together. The government and private investors jointly can accelerate investment in ecological assets and infrastructures that have the power to create significant jobs, reduce inequality, build a more just society, together improving human wellbeing. The government will help to create the market and incentives, while the private sector will shape the investment vehicles to protect and restore the ecological assets and generate investment returns.