Cities are the carriers of human civilization.
Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher, once said, the city “comes into existence, origi-nating in the bare needs of life, and continuing in existence for the sake of a good life”. Oswald Spengler, the German historian, once said, “it is a conclusive fact — yet one hitherto never appreciated — that all great Cultures are town-Cultures.”
Humanity has undergone a long process of evolution from traveling from place to place to settling in walled communities and to living in today’s cities. From the perspective of history, people and the economic and social activities concentrate in cities is a phenomenon that commonly seen in global development.
In the 21st century, the vast majority of people worldwide will live in cities rather than rural areas, which is unprecedented in human history. For countries worldwide, including low-income countries, the ever faster urbanization may bring numerous benefits. Green development requires close attention to eﬀorts and practices at the city level. Urban green development has irreplaceable influences on the concepts and practices of green development.
Cities are the spatial carriers of green development. The industries, geography, population and development pattern of cities have a bearing on the level and quality of green development. The changes of social attitudes and customs in urban development aﬀect the spread of green development concept. Cities have obvious economic advantages in the pursuit of green development strategy.
As the innovation center, cities serve to promote the agglomeration of economies, the knowledge spillover, the overall planning for labor market and the sharing of investments, by gathering skills and businesses. This plays a key role in implementing the strategies designed to cope with climate change and resource scarcity. The cause, process and result of green development are shown through cities. In the past, cities created wealth while also causing brown development issues. At present, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities. Accordingly, most of the greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption occur in cities. Economic wealth is mainly concentrated in urban areas; green development and innovations are mostly seen in cities.
Therefore, cities have become key nodes for the economic, social and cultural contact regionally and internationally. With the urban renewal of developed countries and the accelerating urbanization of emerging economies, urban green development will have a far-reaching eﬀect on the green development capabilities and patterns of diﬀerent countries and the entire world alike. Moreover, it will have a bearing on the future of all countries and humanity.
(I) Solve the historical issue of urban development
Urban development has created a great deal of material and spiritual wealth. However, since the industrial revolution, driven by the development concept that focuses only on the pursuit of material wealth and economic growth, a large quantity of natural resources, energy and primary products have been consumed to boost the economy and increase material wealth. As a result, natural resources have largely decreased, ecological environment has deteriorated with frequent contamination and pollution incidents, and imbalances between economic growth, ecological conservation and environmental protection have become increasingly salient.
In reality, urban brown development issues exist in both developed and developing world but in diﬀerent forms. Cities in developing countries where industrial development is generally at low level tend to rely on industrial development to boost their economy.
Accordingly, these cities have densely distributed heavy industries, which have caused air, noise, and solid waste pollutions. As a result, the health of urban residents is harmed, which in turn negatively aﬀects their work and life. Pollutions caused by heavy industries are particularly severe in smaller cities, where in most cases waste is dumped from one or two factories into a river nearby or a large volume of exhaust gas is emitted from factories to the air. As a result, the water and air environments of these cities are polluted. Moreover, with the urban–rural dual structure, numerous slums in cities have also posed daunting challenges to urban development. Dense population, poor housing, substandard education, worrisome sanitation and public security environment result in various “urban diseases” and their spread. Cities in developed countries where industrial development is generally at high level face the same problems, though not as salient as environment deteriorate, young people and well-educated people tend to migrate, leading to a lack of labor required to drive economic growth.
Historical issues cannot be avoided. If we followed the traditional urban development pattern that prioritizes economic growth as its primary goal, how long would natural resources and environment sustain? This is a question worth asking. As a balanced, coordinated and sustainable development concept and pattern, green development is expected to solve the brown development issues in conventional urban development process.
(II) Respond to the existing crises of urban development
With the spread of global sustainable development concept, the inter-national community has reached a consensus on the view that the environment should be protected in the human development process. As a result, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has been developed.
In the practices of urban development worldwide, an increasing number of leaders and general public realize that what matters most in urban development is not the availability of lucrative investment but its sustainability. Nature is not only generous but also very vulnerable. Natural resources are limited. If they are overused, the integrity of the natural system will suﬀer and urban life will suﬀer accordingly.
Moreover, the drive for changes also comes from the global financial and economic crises we are facing. The crises make it salient that if the global economy and technological innovation lag behind real economy, and if real economy lags behind virtual economy, the balance of the overall economic development will be disrupted, and the urban development will face huge pressure. Facing the downward pressure on the economy and its lack of vitality, some developing countries suﬀer from deteriorating economy and mounting debts, which in turn cause these countries to overlook environmental planning and natural resources protection when developing urban and industrial development plans.
As a result, many cities cut their budgets on environmental protection programs, hindering the remediation of brown development. Moreover, many of the approaches to brown development remediation have to be redesigned and relevant assistance and cooperation are aﬀected. In this context, urban green development becomes particularly important. It is not only an inevitable choice for the change of urban development pattern but also an important approach to coping with the existing crises in urban development. According to relevant studies, cities that implement green development policies tend to be wealthier, with the incidence of poverty being 11.7% on average, whereas cities that implement non-green development have the poverty incidence of 17% on average. Promoting economic growth in an environmentally friendly way through green development will serve to greatly ease the pressure on cities caused by limited natural resources and energy, and eﬀectively improve the supply and demand structure.
In addition, it can create new market demand, stimulate the supply and demand of green products and services, foster new growth poles, increase market capacity and significantly enhance the dynamic growth of cities. It is also worth noting that in response to the crises, we need to turn crises into opportunities. The world is in a period where the fifth technological revolution and the third industrial revolution occur at the same time. Unlike the first and second industrial revolutions, the emerging third industrial revolution is based on renewable energy distributed worldwide. The concentrated business pattern formed in the first and second industrial revolutions will be replaced by the dispersed business pattern formed by the third one.
Cities have a large number of talented people and advantages in technological research, development and application, making them the primary carriers of distributed intelligent energy network and cooperative organizations. Promoting urban green development will help cities grasp the opportunities of the third industrial revolution so that they can make technological innovations for using and developing energy and resources. Moreover, it can help create new demand and markets, develop new ways to boost the economy and provide new impetus for the economic recovery of cities.
(III) Achieve urban development goals
Cities are not only the engine of economic growth but also serve human development and carry humanity’s hope for a better life.
From remote ancient times when people lived on fishing and hunting and traveled from place to place, to despotic society when “the castle was built to protect the monarch and the outer wall was built to protect the people”, to feudal society when the concept of citizens emerged and finally to industrial society when population largely expanded and productivity increased rapidly, the evolution of cities mirrors the development of human civilization.
From 2000 B.C. to this day, as cities at the center of human civilization in diﬀerent times, namely Ur, Thebes, Babylon, Xi’an, Luoyang, Athens, Rome, Constantinople, Kaifeng, Hangzhou, Beijing, London, Paris, New York and Tokyo have achieved the dreams of humanity and created numerous development miracles.
In the future, cities will still be the juncture of human ideal and reality. The United Nations Center for Human Settlements (UNCHS) held that cities would provide us with the following: numerous job opportunities; adequate access to good education; access to basic transport services; aﬀordable access to safe water and complete health facilities; aﬀordable access to medical care services; access to housing; clean air and a safe, inclusive and healthy environment; available parks, community gardens and public spaces; recreation and entertainment; opportunities for people to participate in local democratic governance; access to enjoying nature.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development shifts the focus of development from the pursuit of economic growth to the pursuit of inclusive and green development that “leaves no one behind”. The agenda proposes to build inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable cities, and human settlements. Cities have gone through primitive civilization, agricultural civilization and industrial civilization. Urban green development not only heralds the arrival of ecological civilization for cities but also serves to achieve urban development goals in an environmentally friendly manner.
Following the green development pattern, cities will focus on people’s all-round development and treat the capacity of ecological environment and the carrying capacity of resources as the internal factors of social and economic development. Moreover, cities will promote sustainable use of natural resources, constant improvement of ecological environ-ment, continuous improvement of the quality of life and sustainable economic growth. In doing so, cities not only will meet people’s rising demand for natural resources as population increases but also can integrate the development of economy, society and people with environmental protection, so as to create a better environment for city dwellers, achieve urban development goals and truly realize the urban dream of the humanity.
*本文摘自Green Development of Asia-Pacific Cities , Building Better Cities Towards 2030 ，主编赵峥系首都科技发展战略研究院副院长。