2010 Urban Knowledge Hub Workshop

Speech | 18 October 2010

Opening remarks by Paul J. Heytens, ADB Country Director, PRC Resident Mission, Shanghai, People's Republic of China

Professor Tang Zilai, distinguished guests, participants, ladies and gentlemen. Good morning.

On behalf of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), I welcome you to this official launch of the ADB-Tongji University Urban Knowledge Hub.

It is a pleasure for me to be here today in Shanghai; a city famous for its rich history, urban dynamism and global competitiveness. As we watch the World Expo in Shanghai come to a close and we reflect on the success of this historic event, it seems to me that there is no more appropriate a place to launch an Urban Knowledge Hub for the People's Republic of China (PRC) than here in Shanghai.

As Professor Tang has just said, the Urban Knowledge Hub is a pioneering initiative made possible through partnership between the East Asia Regional Department of the Asian Development Bank and the College of Architecture and Urban Planning of Tongji University.

The Urban Knowledge Hub aims to create knowledge and capacity to manage urban development according to the principles of sustainable development. The Hub hopes to do this by facilitating information and experience exchange within the PRC and between the PRC and other developing countries in the Asia and Pacific Region to better manage urban development. Most importantly, the Urban Knowledge Hub aims to demonstrate practical and operational approaches to urban planning and development that cities can successfully implement.

This first workshop of the Urban Knowledge Hub is the start-up and pilot phase of what we hope to be a long-term partnership with Tongji University to bring together urban planners and city managers to engage and generate ideas and practical solutions to the issues being faced by cities in the Asia and Pacific region as they experience rapid urbanization. As Professor Tang has mentioned, we hope that such a workshop under this initiative will become an annual event.

Urbanization is producing unprecedented socioeconomic gains, with Asian cities responsible for almost 80% of the region's national income. At the same time, urbanization has rescued hundreds of millions of Asia's citizens from grinding poverty.

But as the most aggressive wealth-makers and job providers, Asian cities also account for about 85% of the region's energy consumption and generate about 75% of its greenhouse gas emissions. Today's themes thus are not just crucial for the wellbeing of millions of urban-dwellers in Asia, but for all of humankind.

The challenge for Asian countries is how to make urbanization sustainable. More than one billion Asians are expected to become urbanites in the next 20 years. In China alone, about 20 million people join the urban population each year, a number equivalent to the population of greater New York or Shanghai.

Providing adequate urban infrastructure, delivering effective municipal and social services, and protecting the urban environment are just some of the most pressing needs of ADB's developing member countries given the scale of urbanization in the region. We estimate the "urban infrastructure deficit" in Asia and the Pacific at about $60 billion per year.

The urban environment is one of humankind's most extraordinary achievements. Cities are engines of development and dynamic centers of governance. They are cultural melting pots and vibrant centers of scientific and technological advancement, of cultural identity as well as diversity. Cities are also where more and more of us live.

These features make cities ideal leaders in catalyzing global action to support a new form of urban development. Urban development in Asia should not simply copy past experiences, but must learn from these, and combine them with technological advancement to develop a more progressive form of urban development.

There are many catchphrases or buzz-words being used to describe this concept, including Sustainable Cities, Green Urbanism, Liveable Cities, Eco-Cities, Low-carbon cities, and Future Cities, to name just a few. In essence, these all are trying to describe cities that encourage urban residents to cut consumption of non-renewable resources, to bring nature back to the city, and to build city environments that improve quality of life.

At the core of this is better urban planning; energy-efficient and resource efficient buildings; better public transport systems; improved management of wastes and environmental clean-up activities; and increased partnership between government, non-government and citizens.

Today we will hear about some good practice cases from the PRC that individually are only playing a small part to improve urban development, but collectively are already leading the way toward a new future for cities in China. One case is financed by ADB, one by a local government and one by the private sector. In tackling urban poverty, environmental degradation, resource shortages and climate change we need to think and act globally and locally at the same time, and we need to mobilize partnerships.

Besides being more nimble and willing to take risks than larger government bodies, cities have easy access to citizens, local businesses, schools and institutions. The effects of new policies can be more immediate and meaningful through the direct involvement of stakeholders.

ADB's urban lending in Asia, totaling over $13 billion to date, has focused on physical infrastructure. But new multifaceted approaches are needed. This is why ADB is working actively with cities to promote sustainable urban development. Indeed, our Strategy 2020, ADB's long-term strategic framework which champions livable cities that are both competitive and environmentally attractive.

ADB will be guided by a new Urban Operations Plan that sets out a new direction for its sector operations, one which will pro-actively respond to current and anticipated needs to build the efficient, sustainable and equitable cities of the future. This response, undertaken with our development partners, will be focused on practical ways to improve the environment in cities, support their economies, and foster pro-poor investments.

In the PRC, ADB has progressively moved our urban sector operations to areas of most need - from the coastal provinces to small cities and towns in the interior central and western regions. We are pleased that so many of our partners are able to join the workshop today – from Gansu, Shanxi, Jilin, Jiangsu, and Anhui provinces, Xinjiang and Guangxi autonomous regions, and Chongqing. We are also very pleased to welcome our partners from Vanuatu and Bhutan who have traveled long distances to learn from the PRC's experiences.

In the PRC, we are also focusing on several initiatives.

For example, together with the German government, ADB is spearheading the Cities Development Initiative for Asia, which is assisting Asian cities to identify and develop urban investment projects that emphasize urban environment improvement, urban poverty reduction and climate change mitigation or adaptation.

Together with Tongji University, we have established the Urban Knowledge Hub, which is the first of seven centers of excellence that have been identified in Asia and the Pacific. These centers or hubs will eventually join together to form a wider network of institutions in the region specializing in sustainable urban development.

Together with the PRC's Ministry of Environmental Protection, we are developing an indicator and monitoring system for environmentally livable cities, which is an important step toward a more scientific approach to greening urban economies.

We are also supporting the PRC Government to develop policies, strategies and action plans for the reuse of urban wastewater and generation of energy from sludge - a by-product of the wastewater treatment process.

ADB also recently signed an innovative agreement with the private sector to support the development of waste-to-energy plants in secondary cities across China. The plants will use an advanced clean technology that, unlike most other waste-to-energy technologies, does not use coal supplements.

Production and consumption in Asia and the Pacific are outpacing the renewal capacity of natural resources and the capacity of local governments to manage wastes. New approaches to reducing, reusing, and recycling waste, and using the scarce resources that we have more efficiently are an essential part of ADB's work in the region.

We see the Urban Knowledge Hub and our partnership with Tongji University as a key part of identifying and sharing these new approaches. We are fortunate today to have such distinguished and knowledgeable speakers and panelists to share with us their experiences.

Let me now yield the floor to them, for what are sure to be thought-provoking discussions. I wish you all an enlightening workshop and a pleasant stay here in Shanghai.

Thank you.