In both the United States and China, significant urban challenges and changes to the urban landscape are occurring, largely due to rapid population growth in these areas. While in the United States, the urban proportion of the population has been over 80 percent for the last decade, it is projected to reach about 89 percent by 2050 and the numbers in cities is expected to continue to increase by about 100 million between 2010 and 2050.1 During this same period, China will experience even more dramatic and rapid urbanization: Its urban population will increase from about 50 percent to about 78 percent. By 2050, China will be the first country with 1 billion urban dwellers.2
This rapid expansion in cities in both the United States and China has and will continue to place pressure on environmental, economic, and social systems. Urban areas are facing growing challenges from climate change, water and energy shortages, pollution, and aging infrastructure. As the growth of Chinese and U.S. cities continues, it is critical to support research
1 United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. 2018. World Urbanization Prospects: The 2018 Revision, Online Edition. File 3: Urban Population at Mid-Year by Region, Subregion, Country and Area, 1950–2050 (thousands). Available at https://population.un.org/wup/Download. Accessed March 10, 2020.
2 United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. 2018. World Urbanization Prospects: The 2018 Revision (see table I.5 on page 18). Available at https://population.un.org/wup/Publications/Files/WUP2018-Report.pdf. Accessed March 10, 2020.
that will further understanding of the interconnections between the natural and built environments and how they impact human health in urban areas.
Universities have been a driver in research around urban issues and as such have begun to advance urban sustainability research and data to date. To support innovation at the university level, it is essential that the science community collectively assess the state of urban sustainability research in China and the United States while strengthening and enhancing partnerships to effectively meet current and future sustainability challenges. There is also a need to foster coordination and collaboration for strengthening the science–policy interface by promoting dialogues between scientists and policy makers to adopt best practices.
In November 2018, National Academy of Sciences (NAS) President Marcia McNutt visited China for the first time in her official role. As part of this visit, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Science and Technology for Sustainability (STS) program and the Chinese Academy of Sciences organized a one-day workshop relating to urban sustainability in Beijing. The goal of the visit was to begin to explore some areas where the U.S. National Academies and the Chinese Academy might develop collaboration. At the same time, the trip provided an opportunity to develop links to other parts of the science and technology community in China.
To further elucidate some of these issues and build upon current partnerships, an expert committee under the STS program, in collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, organized a one-day public workshop on urban sustainability in China and the United States, held on December 16, 2019. The workshop focused on the intersection of urban climate change mitigation and adaptation, urban health, and sustainable transportation, including green infrastructure and urban flooding in both countries.
The workshop discussions were directly related to several of the United Nations’ (UN’s) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), described as “the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.” These goals address the “global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice.”3
3 United Nations. 2019. About the Sustainable Development Goals. Available at https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals. Accessed April 16, 2020.
According to the UN, the 17 SDGs are “all interconnected, and in order to leave no one behind, it is important that we achieve them all by 2030”4 (see Figure 1-1). Workshop discussions were focused on those most relevant to SDG 3 (good health and well-being); 6 (clean water and sanitation); 9 (industry, innovation, and infrastructure); 11 (sustainable cities and communities); 13 (climate action); and 17 (partnerships for the goals).
After opening remarks (summarized below), the agenda was organized in several sessions; this proceedings follows the organization of the workshop. The framing remarks provided context for the current landscape for urbanization research and practice in the United States and China (Chapter 2), followed by three panel sessions. The first session examined urban sustainability research activities at the university level in both countries (Chapter 3). Researchers from both countries discussed their work and ongoing collaboration on urban sustainability issues, including the importance of academia in fostering innovation around urban challenges. A second session focused on architecture, urban design, and sustainable cities
4 United Nations. 2019. About the Sustainable Development Goals. Available at https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals. Accessed April 16, 2020.
in China and the United States, and included a discussion of nature-based solutions (Chapter 4). A third session addressed data and earth observation for decision making, including discussion of the major advances in these areas for supporting decision making in urban planning (Chapter 5). The session that followed included breakout discussions where participants addressed issues related to the intersection of urban climate change mitigation and adaptation, urban health, and sustainable transportation, including green infrastructure and urban flooding in China and the United States (Chapter 6). A final discussion gave participants the opportunity to reflect on what new efforts might be needed to advance the field, including identifying next steps (Chapter 7). The appendixes include the agenda, biographical sketches of committee members and presenters, and a list of participants (Appendixes A through C).
Presenters and participants had expertise in urban sustainability, green infrastructure and sustainable transportation, urban human health, climate change adaptation and mitigation, and urban flooding, among other areas, and represented China and the United States on these issues. The workshop began with introductory statements by leaders of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Marcia McNutt, president of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, welcomed workshop participants and thanked those who had traveled to the workshop for their participation and support. The rapid pace of urbanization in the United States and China, as well as other countries around the world, presents one of the biggest challenges faced today, said Dr. McNutt. There will be 11.2 billion people living in cities by the end of the century. Now is the pivotal time, she said, to envision what a city can and should look like and to consider how they can be sustainable and producing what they need to be resilient.
To address these issues, research on the interconnectedness of these challenges is needed, she said, to understand the human, not just the natural, dimensions of sustainability. This will require global partnerships. The UN SDGs are oriented around research and innovation; they are needed to address key urban sustainability issues and include measurable targets for achieving progress by 2030. The SDGs can energize the global community around urban sustainability challenges and further partnerships, she said.
Yaping Zhang, vice president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, added that urban sustainability is not a national but a global challenge, particularly in developing countries. Between 1950 and 2015, there was a shift from 29.6 percent globally living in cities to 53.9 percent, with an average of 140,000 people moving to cities each day. In China, 10.6 percent of the population lived in cities in 1949, and 60.3 percent of the population lived in cities by 2019.5 The uncontrolled expansion of urban areas in China has been of great concern and is at the forefront of research and development at the national level, Dr. Zhang explained. The Chinese Academy of Sciences has launched a research program to address urban challenges and the results of the current workshop will help to inform that work. Both of these efforts have and will encourage the sharing of policy and knowledge related to urban sustainability challenges moving forward.
Planning committee chair Karen Seto, Frederick C. Hixon Professor of Geography and Urbanization Science in the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University, stated that there are a number of sobering statistics around the changing urban environment, as described above. Demographers forecast that the urban population is expected to continue to increase in the United States by about 100 million between 2010 and 2050. During this same period, China’s urban population will increase from about 50 percent to about 78 percent, said Dr. Seto, adding that China is seen as a leader in how it is building its cities. However, the size of the urban population has massive implications for the environment, economy, and social systems, including challenges from climate change, water and energy shortages, pollution, and aging infrastructure.
Dr. Seto explained the goals of the workshop are to support research to advance understanding of the interconnections between the natural and built environments and impact on human health; increase partnerships and memoranda of understanding (MOUs) between U.S. and Chinese universities to accelerate research; and address the urgent need to assess the state of urban sustainability research in China and the United States and enhance partnerships. She added that a key element is to support research that pushes the science forward and, in turn, accelerates research that is being conducted in universities to allow for knowledge sharing.
The workshop objectives include a number of topics related to urban sustainability in China and the United States focused on the intersection of urban climate change mitigation and adaptation, health, and sustainable transportation, including green infrastructure and urban flooding. Urban areas are at the confluence of these topics and cannot be viewed in silos or individually, she said. She noted the key issues to be discussed during the workshop include:
- Reviewing the current landscape for sustainable urban development policies and practices in China and the United States;
- Highlighting urban sustainability research at universities in China and the United States, including the most significant outcomes of research in an interdisciplinary context;
- Identifying research needs and knowledge gaps toward sustainable urbanization; and
- Discussing effective mechanisms for strengthening the science–policy interface and adopting best practices to address current and future urban sustainability challenges in both countries.