Regenerative Cities in China

The design and functioning of cities is the key to sustainable development. As the international community turns increasingly towards cities and calls upon them to find effective solutions to the world´s most pressing issues, one thing remains certain: no substantial global environmental improvement can be achieved without cities on board. Considering the scale and impact of urbanization and economic growth in China, ensuring the sustainable development of Chinese cities is becoming an increasingly important priority not only for policy makers in China but for the entire international community. More and more international attention is in fact gathering around China to provide support and help in this challenging yet necessary transition towards a more sustainable urban future. The Regenerative City Vision of the World Future Council outlined in this report is an attempt to offer a first conceptual foundation to guide this necessary transformation.

The Regenerative City can be defined as a city that regenerates the resources it consumes by maintaining an environmentally enhancing, restorative relationship with the ecosystems from which it draws resources for its sustenance. If urban areas are to continue to offer individuals the prospect of an improved quality of life and ability to realise their potential and aspirations, they must recognise and embrace their role in ensuring that the earth’s life support systems remain healthy and sound.

Considering the unprecedented scale at which cities consume and discard resources and how, especially in China, cities are already severely afflicted by environmental burdens such as water contamination and air pollution, it is clear that sustaining the current status is not sufficient. A further step is needed. This means moving beyond a restrictive definition of sustainability and embrace a broader model of urban development that puts the emphasis on the need for cities not to only to sustain but to actively regenerate the natural resources they need and consume.

A Regenerative type of urban development transforms cities from systems that only deplete resources and damage ecosystems to dynamic systems that restore a mutually beneficial, symbiotic relationship with the surrounding environment. Using the expression used by the Canadian architect Craig Applegath during the Future of Cities Forum, regenerative means shifting the approach “from simply doing less harm to doing more good”.

Note from Storm: Craig Applegath’s quote above represents a welcome shift from the old practice of sustainability, which was basically to damage our planet less. But their definition of a regenerative city isn’t much different from the established sustainability model: mostly old thinking in a new package. It focuses mostly on regenerating what we currently use, but largely ignores the vast damage already inflicted on the Earth over recent centuries, and also ignores the huge inventory of derelict, obsolete, and/or inappropriate built environment in need of removal, replacement, or renovation. Still, shifting to a “re” word is a positive step, that will hopefully lead them to discover the full scope of regenerative activities that a city should embrace (as described in The Restoration Economy in 2002).

Download full report (PDF) & see photo credit.

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