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【Beijing Forum 2010】Lü Bin: China's Approach in Constructing World Cities

Peking University, Nov. 9, 2010: On the afternoon of Nov. 5, 2010, Prof. Lü Bin from the Faculty of Urban and Regional Planning, Peking University, delivered a speech entitled “The diversity of world cities and the approach of construction of Chinese world megacity regions” at Beijing Forum’s panel session on the theme of “Building the Harmonious World City." One day before the opening of the forum, our journalist was able to arrange an interview with Prof. Lü Bin.

Q: As you know this is the 7th Beijing Forum Peking University has held. May I ask your opinion and expectations of  Beijing Forum 2010, especially the panel themed “Building the Harmonious World City," in which you have been invited to give a speech?


A: All the preceding six Beijing Forums were successful. The theme of each forum and sub-forums fit the major issues in social and economic development, as well as global issues of common concern. Beijing Forum 2010 is no exception. The theme - "The Harmony of Civilizations and Prosperity for All — Commitments and Responsibilities for a Better World” echoes with the theme of this epoch, which is“harmony."


In addition to the well-chosen themes and topics in each panel, the success of Beijing Forum also lies in its high academic level because of the participation of world renowned professors. Previous forums have proved to be fruitful by the inspiring ideas they presented in issues concerning national strategy, regional development and global problems. Obviously, the success should also be attributed to the contribution Peking University has made. Beijing Forum has become a brand for Peking University.


I have great expectations for the forthcoming panel “Building the Harmonious World City." I am looking forward to communicating with other scholars around the world in the panel, which I believe would be greatly beneficial, especially now that “constructing Beijing into a world city” is officially on the agenda. I am honored to be part of this forum to discuss about issues on building the harmonious world city.


Q: Would you like to talk about the concept of “world city” from a Chinese perspective. How do you understand the term, what are the features of a world city? And what is the significance to construct world cities, in this case, to construct a Chinese world megacity region for our country?


A: Since the 1970s, especially after globalization has become the mainstream of this world, “world city” has been at the center of the attention. Therefore, the construction of the world urban system has become a problem worth discussion. Every country concerns about the position and role ofits own cities in this system, including China.Although all cities are part of this big system, nations are obviously more concerned about their opportunities and prospects to build top world cities like New York, London and Tokyo in their own country, since cities with such high rank can play a leading role in the regional economy and development.


Admittedly, Chinese cities rank relatively low in the world city list. Even the top cities within China, like Beijing and Shanghai, do still have a long way to go before they can be justifiably regarded as top world cities. However, Chinese cities are growing more rapidly than cities elsewhere, at the same time demonstrating great potentials for continuous growth in the future. I believe that it is worthwhile to make endeavors in the construction of high ranking world cities or even world megacity regions in China. It is not only possible, but also pivotal. World cities are in constant change, including the connotation and positioning. Many problems remain to be discussed in terms of finding the appropriate approach for China to strengthen its top cities into qualified world cities. Hopefully this issue will be discussed in this particular panel.


Of course the theme of Beijing Forum 2010 reminds us of the importance of  a harmonious process on our way of constructing a world city. It is very important not to overlook problems in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai, imbalanced regional development and issues about improving the quality of urbanization. How to secure a relatively high speed of growth while maintaining a harmonious process during our development process is also relevant issue concerning the construction of world cities.


In my opinion the growth of world cities is at bottom a spontaneous process. But it doesn’t mean finding a proper approach is unimportant. Unlike the market-dominated urbanization process happened in European or American cities, Chinese cities now follow a different   path in their development, which means stronger governmental participation. However, this difference is not that extreme now, especially since the financial crisis has urged Western countries to rethink the role of government and planning. For example, the US is strengthening its planning and control in megacity regions. Although China obviously has accumulated a lot of experiences in governmental guidance and has certain advantages in this turbulent economic environment, governmental intervene shouldn’t be overdone, it cannot and should not substitute market forces. I also would like to discuss about this issue with experts from various background in the panel.


Q: You are going to give a speech entitled “The diversity of world cities and the approach of construction of Chinese world megacity regions” in the panel Building the Harmonious World City. Would you like to illustrate your key points on the subject?


A: I have several points to make on the matter of constructing megacity regions in China in my speech and I will summarize it as the following.


First of all, China has several strong cities and their surrounding areas with great potentials to become high ranking world cities, but there is still a long way to go. The 2009 World Bank Report mentioned the necessity to “reconstruct world economic geography” globally after the financial crisis, which pointed out Chinese cities’ opportunity. Obviously, we should take our time and work on our way to achieve the goal step by step.


As for what is the appropriate path to take, I believe it should be relevant to China’s context. World cities are diverse; each has its own local and cultural characteristics, and China needs to find its unique way. If our cities are to grow rapidly, their unique regional elements should be integrated in the global context. As I will illustrate in my presentation, New York, London and Tokyo, the Top three world cities, differentiate in their industrial structure and approaches of development. For example, Tokyo’s development has its profound foundation in the strong manufactory in the Tokyo megacity region, continuously benefiting from headquarter economy and producer services. It is an industry-orientated world city, which differs from New York and London’s orientation in finance.


Therefore, in my opinion, instead of abandoning manufacturing industry, the approach for China’s construction of world cities should be based on an advanced one in order to attract high-end production services. This is not to say that Beijing should move back those large-scale manufactures, but to enhance the development of advanced manufacturing industry in a large area surrounding the city. Not only should Beijing cooperate closely with Tianjin, it should also incorporate northern Hebei into an integrated regional development. In this way, Beijing will have a basis for agglomeration of producer services and all three regions can work together to create a strong major metropolitan area.


In addition, the greatest charm of world cities lies in culture. Therefore Beijing should not forget its cultural advantages and to develop creative and cultural industries. Besides, Beijing needs to make better use of its agglomeration of universities and research institutions, focusing on the combination of research and production to facilitate local conversion process from research findings to products. Additionally, Beijing should also create conditions to attract influential world organizations and institutions to settle here, which will help enhance Beijing’s control power in the world system.


Another very important point I really want to emphasize in the process of building a harmonious world city is the construction of community. A world city should be open. Therefore, its inclusion of diverse cultures and governance of complex social structures have to be strong. Now, the top world cities are concerned about the dual structure within the city, namely the problem of widening gap between rich and poor. If China wants to build harmonious world cities, it will also face this problem. In order to manage the migrant, even immigrant population defectively and efficiently and ensure social security on the way of constructing a harmonious world city, building safe, harmonious, cohesive communities is an important starting point.


Q: Earlier you mentioned Tokyo, and you lived and studied in Japan for a long time. Could you talk about how Tokyo’s  experiences can provide inspirations for Beijing in terms of building world cities?


A: In addition to what I have mentioned earlier, the reference of Tokyo’s development path as Asia's world top metropolitan, its community building also sets a good example for Beijing.  Japan's "Town Council," the grass-roots community organizations, plays a considerable role in Japanese society. Now, changes in the spatial structure of Chinese cities occur too quickly. Chinese cities are experiencing an enormous social reconstruction process, but their social organization and structure are lagging behind. Therefore, we need to focus on community organizations, which is very significant on our way to construct harmonious world cities.


Q: My last question is about the organization of the forum. As you know there is a student panel named “We are the Youth in a Globalizing World” in Beijing Forum 2010, including several discussion sessions on issues including sustainable development, eco-system conservation and the concept of “green campus." What is your opinion on the change?


A: I think the Student Panel is another highlight in this year’s forum. I am all for it. Youth is the future of the world, therefore it is very good of Beijing Forum to value their ideas and make their voice heard. As we can see, many of the international conferences and forums also have a youth panel.


First of all, having the opportunity to present and discuss their fresh and lively ideas in an international forum benefits young people’s growth. It helps deepen their understanding of national and world issues, as well as encourages the awareness of the responsibility they need to shoulder.


Secondly, young people are supposed to be the main action group and advocates of issues concerning sustainable development, ecological balance, low-carbon, green campus. I think the most important thing here is to establish correct values including low-carbon lifestyle and energy saving. We should give full play to young leaders and encourage them to influence the entire youth population. 


In addition, the participation of young people is valuable for the forum itself. I am looking forward to the wisdom and fresh vitality of the young people, which will bring more colors to this forum for academia.



Reported by: Li Xiaomeng
Edited by: Chen Miaojuan