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UCI Brings the Urban Leaders Roundtable to New York

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Dec. 2, 2013, New York – The Urban China Initiative (UCI) hosted its quarterly Urban Leaders Roundtable on Dec. 2 for the first time in New York. Over 50 leading figures from the public, private and academic sectors in China and the U.S. gathered for an in-depth discussion on China’s urbanization issues.

Co-hosted by Jonathan Woetzel, co-chair of UCI and director of McKinsey & Company, Joan Kaufman, Director of Columbia Global Centers | East Asia, and Merit E. Janow, Dean of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, the first Urban Leaders Roundtable in New York focused on six major urbanization issues – Infrastructure and Finance; Energy and Sustainability; Public Health; Information and Technology; Urban Design; and Governance.

Jonathan Woetzel shared at the one-day conference the latest Urban Sustainability Index (USI). The Index provides a data-driven evaluation of Chinese cities based on selected measures of sustainability, highlighting cities that have made great strides in enhancing sustainability.

To provide a comparative framework for China’s urbanization, Janamitra Devan, Former Executive Vice President of the World Bank’s Financial and Private Sector Development (FPD), addressed the issues that arose during the United States’ development, including the government’s debt crisis, employment issues, and environmental degradation.

Janamitra Devan also made some constructive comments on UCI’s Urban Sustainability Index, saying that although USI provides a clear picture of the cities’ development, to list all cities in a single ranking system may lead to unhelpful competition. “Rather than comparing with each other, cities should be encouraged to compare with their past performance,” said Devan.

MING Xiaodong, Deputy Director of NDRC’s Development Planning Department, talked about China’s urbanization achievements and issues. He noted, “Despite the increase in urbanization rate and the number of cities, there remain important tasks for China’s urbanization. Some of the major tasks are – promoting integration for migrant workers, optimizing urban spatial layout, and enhancing the capacity for sustainable urban development.”

“Also, areas that concern basic conditions should be emphasized in infrastructure construction, including pipeline construction, sewage treatment and waste management,” MING said.

LONG Fei, Former Vice Mayor of the Shigatse City, Tibet Autonomous Region, sounded the alarm bell by warning that although China is enjoying fast-paced urbanization, some policies could lead to over-development of big cities and under-development of smaller cities as well as rural areas. “A coordinated development of urban and rural areas is key to China’s urbanization,” he said.

Speaking of the issues of public health in urbanization, YU Hongyuan, Professor and Deputy Director of the Institute for Comparative Politics and Public Policy, Shanghai Institute for International Studies, said that the climate and environment changes caused by urbanization affect people’s health. “South-south cooperation may help address public health issues by sharing experiences and resources,” YU proposed.

FENG Wenmeng, Research Director of China Development Research Foundation, pointed out four major tasks for China’s future health reform, including 1) constructing a prevention-based health care system; 2) building a sustainable healthcare financing system; 3) enhancing the capacity of healthcare supply; 4) reducing environmental health risks.

Huang Wei, Dean of Xi’an Jiaotong University’s School of Management, shared a case study of Xi’an’s big data strategy and innovation.

David Sandalow, Former Undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Energy highlighted the importance of taking a forward-looking view of the environmental impact of growth.

Sergej Mahnovski, Director of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, provided very helpful examples of how New York has addressed sustainability issues in infrastructure development.

Linda Fried, Dean of the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, highlighted the issues associated with public health and the important work that the Mailman school is doing in mapping urban health issues globally.

Mark Wigley, Dean of the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, Columbia University, highlighted the importance of thinking beyond sustainability to defining a true vision for the Chinese city and how the city can contribute to the broader development of Chinese society.

Jay Renade, Vice Chairman of Citibank, and Thomas Green, Managing Director and Head of Infrastructure Finance, made clear points around the opportunity and necessity for financial reform in Chinese cities, in particular through the development of more transparent municipal finance markets.

Following the Roundtable, leaders of the UCI delegation had the opportunity to visit City Hall and meet with Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway, to better understand the opportunities for urban development experience exchange.

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