Planning Eureka! - Q&A

2021-03-09 | UPSC


On January 12th, 2021, the first issue of ‘Planning Eureka!’, hosted by Shi Nan, executive vice-president and secretary-general of UPSC, was launched online. Professor Clark and Professor Wang Shusheng gave fruitful speeches, respectively. After the presentation, Mr Shi had a warm discussion with them. The following is part of the discussion between Mr Shi and Professor Clark.

(This article has been reviewed by Professor Greg Clark)

Shi: The first question is coming from your idea of decoding and also your first observation: how to build the identity, affinity and pride and sense of belonging or purpose in the citizen. I think this is one of the very important ways to think of the city DNA. Nowadays, in China, cities are talking about competitiveness and also talking about the city branding. Could you please give some general suggestions to the cities, who are talking about the market, about competitiveness, about the city branding? What is that, as you said, common general therapy, and what is that more specific biological treating of the cities?

Clark: Yes, it’s a very interesting question, Shi Nan. My point would be that the competitive aspect is very important. Cities that understand their DNA can present a story about themselves which is distinct and unique. It’s, of course, a differentiator, so it allows a city to escape the challenges of comparison by focusing much more on what makes it unique. What makes it unique is more memorable, it’s more appealing to individuals, and it enables the city to really show that it’s not just making a claim about what it would like to be, but it’s actually explaining to the world what it is. If we take the city of Shanghai, which is such a wonderful city in the world, this city is becoming increasingly a very important city to the world and will be regarded as one of the most important cities in the world for the next 100 years at least.

Shanghai, I think, can take advantage from communicating its own history as a place of innovation, a place of cosmopolitism, a city that is both a great Chinese city and also a great Pacific city. It can take some advantage from really explaining to the world how it has always been the centre of the high-value networks of exchange and trade. This approach would be to say not Shanghai is X-percent better than that city or Y-percent better than another city but rather to communicate the unique individual character of the city. This would be how to do that, and I think it’s very important cities do this.

Shi: To build your strength-- there is similarity between cities, but there are no same cities in the world. Thank your unique part and build your strength. This would be, I will say, very helpful. Also, I note from some your slides, there is the top world cities in 2020. I notice that most of the Chinese cities you list here are within the purple sector, representing enterprisers or powerhouses. What comes from these observations, the metrics? Because the audience are from the general public of the country. Could you tell us what the story is behind that, or present the general things? Can I do some things for the cities and improve the city’s DNA, add some positive power for the city?

Clark: That’s a very good question as well, Shi Nan. The first thing I would say, of course, is that we are lucky to be alive in this period when China is doing the biggest experiment in planned mass urbanisation that the world has seen. Therefore, the whole world is learning, from China, how to build and how to make successful cities. For those of us who study cities, Chinese urbanisation is a great thing to study. What has happened in both Shanghai and Beijing has emerged very, very strongly in the last four decades as now being leading cities in the world. Before the end of the next ten years, we will consider Beijing and Shanghai to be amongst the top eight, nine cities in the world and to be very important.

If you like, the Chinese are moving from the right-hand side of my picture into the centre. Shanghai and Beijing have moved into the inner ring and will be on the orange side very soon. Many other cities in China will move from this purple space to the central space, and some will move over to the orange space on the left-hand side. What the citizens can do here is really communicate very actively the individual characteristics of the city. I think, for example, Nanjing and Suzhou are becoming very well-understood cities. These cities will increasingly be recognised as new world cities with specialisation and advanced industries and very high quality of life. I think these powerhouse cities are described as such because they are productive with large populations but increasingly, they should add tourism and high-value education and cultural production. If you like, all of these enable them to move up the value chain of creativity, of invention and discovery. They can utilise these high-value-added creative aspects to their DNA as well as their ability to organise efficient mass production which nobody has any doubt about. In the movement up the value chain of the economy, personality, specificity become increasingly important because this is what enables the city to be creative and inventive and innovative, not just to be productive. I think that is the journey that many, many Chinese cities are on, and it’s fascinating to watch.

Shi: Thank you. Thank you very much. I think our audience will understand ‘we belong to the cities, and cities belong to us’。 Everyone can contribute to the city. Though no city could change its natural location, we can do something to improve our life. This is the more important part. I’m really happy to mention that cities like Suzhou and Nanjing and other cities in China are trying to shift a little bit from the purple part to the central to the orange part of that. Behind that, I would say, one of the drawing factors will be innovation or technical or could be creatives. There are also policy incentives in the central government between central-local decision-makers to use these natural resources to make the city more efficient. Talking about the technology, can you foresee what will be the next-generation technology? As we will say, the 5G, the big data or IoT, the fancy new things, what will shape our cities’ future? Will the technology play a more important role in our future, or could it be less than in comparison to cultural factors?

Clark: Well, I think it is a very important point. Of course, there is a new generation of technologies - from 5G to AI to IoT - a whole series of way in which our cities are going to become more mechanized, more automatic and to become cities that are more intelligent and smarter. I don’t think we should simply want to create a city of robots, and to live inside a robot is going to be an odd experience. We need the cities to be somehow co-created between human-beings, technology and other big systems. This idea of the DNA of cities becomes a very important dimension to the way in which our lives are consistently altered. We can think about the co-created city as being the really important idea where technology is a new tool that we can use to make our cities more efficient, more responsive, more agile, more flexible. The core idea of identity, personality, purpose and values must fix together with that if we are going to have a city that provides opportunities and creativity for citizens. The robotic city may be very productive but not very creative and not very happy, so we need a combination of things. I think the next 20 years are all about this.

Shi Nan: Yes. I totally agree with your point, and I particularly like the idea of co-created cities. The technology will be helpful for human beings, but the cities are consisted of people. It’s about the society; it’s about the people. I’m coming back to another question from our audience. This person is asking: You have the big seven, but how about other less-developed or smaller cities to deal with? Any suggestions?

Clark: Well, I think it’s very important to understand the idea that the DNA of cities can apply to all cities. For all cities, there are distinctive geographical, historical, cultural, social and climatic conditions. They need to be understood and interpreted. All of the 6,000 cities that we should worry about in the world have the capacity of DNA. It’s very easy to assume it’s only for the big cities, but it certainly isn’t. In the case of smaller cities, these issues of relationship and neighbours, which cities they are close to, which bigger settlements they are near to, these become very important, especially as we engage in a more distributed kind of urbanisation. It becomes absolutely key to understand that for many smaller cities, the question is, how could you have a good relationship with bigger cities, and how could you make it work for your own population? When you are the youngest member of a family, the smallest child, your relationship with your brothers and sisters become really important.

Shi: Understand the relationship to have a more sustainable balance. As you mentioned, all those code-to-other-code, that will be essential. I can sense your point that no matter the size of the city and what level within the urban system or what kind of location, every city can apply the urban DNA of cities, these metrics to have them understand the city, reshape their mindset and make better planning for the futures. Thank you very much, Professor Greg Clark. Thank you very much for your participation. It was a very fruitful, very informative presentation.