Sustainable Urban Development

Also in the European Union, cities are the centres of economic activity and population, accounting for 67% of EU’s GDP and 68% of EU’s population. In contrast to China, the European Union is characterised by a polycentric urban development with 56% of its urban population – around 38% of the total European population – living in small and medium-sized cities and towns of between 5.000 and 100.000 inhabitants . Only 7% of the EU population live in cities of over 5 million inhabitants compared to 14.4% in China . Similar to China, European cities are confronted with challenges ranging from specific demographic changes (some of them are shrinking and aging whereas other are expanding), job creation, social progress to congestion, air pollution and energy consumption.  Urban sprawl puts additional pressure on public services, natural resources and congestion. According to the European Commission, 70% of European Union’s GHG emissions come from its cities . Globalisation has led to a loss of jobs – especially in the manufacturing sector – and this has been amplified by the current economic crisis. Green growth of cities offers a key opportunity to create jobs and ensure prosperity in Europe.

In China, rapid urbanisation leaded to the development of clusters of megacities and urban sprawl, setting enormous challenges to regional planning in China. From 1949 to 2013, the number of cities increased from 132 to 654, and the urbanisation level rose from 7.3% to 52.3%. There are currently 85 metropolitan areas with more than 1 million people. Forecasts show that urban centres will keep growing at a high rhythm, particularly the so-called ‘second-tier’ and ‘third-tier’ cities. This dynamic growth increases pressure on social services, water , energy, transportation and housing infrastructure. The enormous quantities of untreated wastewater and waste as well as air pollution as well as the ineffective use and management of water are serious constraints that hamper sustainable urban development. Resource efficient production and consumption have therefore to be tackled hand in hand with the massive dissemination of end-of-pipe technologies to contain environmental pressures arising from growth of cities, e.g., in the areas of air pollution and water and sanitation. Chinese NDRC experts involved in CETREGIO activities have stated that policies favouring cities as the engine of economic development are rather simplistic, since do not measure the impact of urban development in the surrounding regions.

Selected related activities:

Seminar on sustainable urban development held in the EU in November 2012

Seminar on sustainable regional and urban development in China, July 2014

Seminar on sustainable urban development in China, May 2015