Response to Sean Chiao: Planning China’s megacities

Mega-cities are becoming a hot topic in China and academics & government seems to moving on from eco-city and low carbon city to mega-city. Recently Sean Chiao, the executive vice president of China for AECOM posted Planning China’s megacities on McKinsey stating that Mega-cities need to be planned, managed in an innovative way. Scott goes on to talk about rules and guidelines for cities.

For Chinese megacities to function properly, there must be clear state policies on how to build and run them, as well as strict audits to ensure that the laws are followed. Rules and guidelines on how to build a “green” infrastructure—from buildings, bridges, transport networks, and sanitation systems to power grids, incentives for consuming power efficiently, and disincentives for energy abuse and malpractice must be mandated and put into practice.

He also discusses that planning of mega-cities should be multi-disciplinary and that government and private sector need to work together due to the complexity of the planning a mega-city.

I agree mega-cities need multi-disciplinary teams to create, design and retrofit existing mega-cities and regulation is required to ensure that the design is implemented. The greatest area that needs to be addressed in urban planning in China is assessment and auditing of the implementation of urban plans in China. Assessment of the implementation of Conceptual Master Plans and DCMP’s is key to learning what has been successful and what has failed. Often in Urban Design Masterplans are implemented but the formal independent assessment needs to be improved – there is abundant anecdotal evidence and some reports from government but this information needs to be formally recorded and assessed to allow designers of future urban designs to be able to learn how to design a successful CBD, new area development, or revitalise an old city. Cities should be commissioning independent assessments and reports and then placing this information in a system platform that all government departments can access.

Regulation and guidelines are key to planning mega-cities but we can over-regulate thus stifling innovative and creative solutions for cities. Often regulations go too far by setting too many constraints such as colour palettes for architecture. If we over regulate we often end up with generic cities or monotonous superblock after superblock of the similar architecture with same colours. Regulations and guidelines have their place in urban planning but they need to be used with utmost care.

Mega-cities are a good solution to creating energy efficient and productive cities but we need to ensure that the social aspect of these cities is catered for through urban parks, urban plazas, pedestrian streets, and forests with varying scale of developments with enough community and social services to cater for the people of a mega-city. Providing spaces for social interaction is just as important to a city as providing energy efficient buildings, integrated transport systems, and green infrastructure. Cities are merely buildings and roads without people.