By 2026, China anticipates moving some 250 million people from the country’s rural areas into its burgeoning megacities.
The idea is to stimulate the nation’s economic growth.
China hopes that by bringing more people into urban areas, the nation will enjoy big boosts in its ability to both make and sell goods. Its current reputation — a low-quality exporter of cheap clothes and consumer goods — could soon fade away.
But challenges there are aplenty.
To get a sense of whether China has doomed itself with its own ambition, Tech Insider spoke with Warren Karlenzig, a 25-year-veteran in the field of urban sustainability, and Emma Stewart, head of sustainability solutions for the software company Autodesk.
Karlenzig and Stewart pointed to several key variables that China must account for if it wants to avoid disaster.
Here are their considerations:
4. Recycling and waste dumping laws
Pollution is a vexing problem for China, Karlenzig says. Companies of all sizes leave their waste on the sides of roads, in fields, and even bodies of water — all with little to no oversight.
“China’s had such a massive economic boom, it’s been hard for authorities to keep up,” explains Karlenzig. “One thing China can do is get a better handle on its pollution and waste and come up with better strategies for regulation.”
That means more recycling laws and greater enforcement of the existing anti-dumping laws. A country whose main goal is expansion can’t do so if the very thing that keeps it alive — clean, safe drinking water — disappears.
3. Pedestrian-friendly cities
With more bodies darting between cities, roadways are bound to clog. To get people out of their cars, Karlenzig says that China’s megacities — those with more than 10 million people — have to adopt the bike- and pedestrian-friendly strategies of Tokyo, Copenhagen, and Stockholm.
Autodesk is currently working on a solution from the software side, Stewart says. It’s called Project Commuter, and it models railway congestion and pedestrian volume to help people make smarter commutes and avoid crowded places. Traditional models only account for congestion from single-occupancy vehicles, Stewart says.
“We’re hopeful it will allow the Chinese, among others,” she explains, “to get a better handle on the mix of transportation modes they should be using to account for growth in ridership, as well as more and more congested roads.”
2. Renewable energy
The worldwide problem of energy efficiency will be felt most strongly in China, according to both experts. Buildings lack essential components, such as insulation and dual-glazed windows, to keep heat in or out. Even if China is the world’s leading producer of wind energy, Karlenzig says, most of it gets wasted because it’s harnessed too far from metropolitan areas.
He recommends the use of microgrids, which offer a placement to centralised electricity grids. They can be set up remotely where wind energy is stored, and easily transferred when it’s time to draw power.
1. Water scarcity
China’s northern regions are far more arid than its southern regions, and the aquifers are quickly depleting, Karlenzig says. While the country has started transporting water from the south to the north, it won’t be able to meet even the current population growth, let alone future plans.
China needs sustainability, and Karlenzig points to infrastructure that can capture rainwater.
In Singapore, for example, half the land area has been equipped to capture the 94 inches of rain it receives each year. The measure saves roughly 8 cents per cubic meter over drinkable water and provides a third of the area’s water supply.
If Beijing and other urban areas want to expand by the millions, Karlenzig says, they’d better start seeing themselves as sponges.
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