Apr. 16, 2014, Beijing – The Urban China Initiative (UCI) on Wednesday launched the 2013 Urban Sustainability Index (USI) Report. According to 23 metrics that cover areas of the economy, society, resources and environment, 185 cities of varying sizes and at different stages of development are ranked by their level of sustainability from 2005 to 2011. The report has provided not only a quantitative scoring tool to evaluate urban development, but also invaluable reference for China’s policy makers and city planners.
Over 60 experts from the public and private sectors participated in a heated discussion on the 2013 Urban Sustainability Index (USI) Report. LI Xun, Vice President of China Academy of Urban Planning & Design under MoHURD; QI Jia, Director of the Office of the Development and Reform Bureau of Zhuhai; Joan Kaufman, Co-Chair of UCI and Director of Columbia Global Centers | East Asia; and LI Shantong, Senior Researcher of the Development and Research Center of the State Council spoke at the launch as panelists.
“USI serves more than a tool. Based on the scores in each category, Chinese cities can find out their strengths and weaknesses and strategize accordingly. They can also evaluate the effectiveness of their policies and identify models of urban development in and outside China.”Jonathan Woetzel, Co-Chair of UCI and Director of McKinsey & Company, said at the report launch.
Key findings of the 2013 Urban Sustainability Index (USI) Report include -
1. The level of sustainability has improved in most Chinese cities.
Most Chinese cities are gradually improving their level of sustainability, especially in the social and environmental aspects. The progress reflects healthy economic growth as well as a continued emphasis on bettering the society and the environment.
2. Top 10 cities leading in sustainability are mostly located in coastal or eastern regions.
According to the data of 2011, the top scorers in sustainability were Zhuhai, Shenzhen, Hangzhou, Xiamen, Guangzhou, Dalian, Fuzhou, Beijing, Changsha and Yantai.
Situated in geographic locations favorable for trade and investment, eastern cities are the early beneficiaries of China’s economic liberalization policies. In the report, eastern cities have higher scores in overall sustainability, followed by cities in central and western China.
The general pattern also appears in the economic, social and environmental subcategories. From 2008 to 2011, the gap between western and central cities was to some extent widened, while the central cities gradually caught up with the eastern cities. However, since the cities are at different stages of economic development, the cities that improve fastest in sustainability are not necessarily the strongest economic performers.
3. Although the sustainability level of Chinese cities correlates positively with economic strength, per capita GDP does not indicate a city’s level of sustainability.
Theses top 10 cities constitute around 1% of China’s urban population and 16% of its urban GDP. Except for mega-cities such as Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Beijing, most of the top 10 cities are medium-sized, with a population of 1.5-6.5 million. The cities’ population density is 7,000- 10,000 people per square kilometer, with the exception of Beijing, which has around 14,000 people per square kilometer. But the top scorers are no leading cities in per capita GDP. Their per capita GDP is 9,000-100,000 RMB, while the highest per capita GDP can reach 200,000 RMB for Chinese cities.
In the long run, the sustainability level of Chinese cities correlates positively with economic strength. Positive correlations are also found to some extent with the size and density of population, density, FDI and migration.
But there are turning points at which the growth of a city’s sustainability slows down or stalls, for example when the size of a city’s population exceeds 4.5 million, when its population becomes denser than 8,000 people per square kilometer, when the FDI grows larger than 3 billion USD, or when the migrants constitute more than 30% of the total population.
The top cities are all “in good shape” in terms of their population and economic sizes. Yet a lot of more-developed cities in China are at a turning point where transformative strategies are needed for sustainable development, for example Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Tianjin, Chengdu, Nanjing, Shenyang, Wuhan and Chongqing.
4. Major gaps between Chinese cities and their international benchmarks exist in the social, economic, and environmental aspects.
Although China is improving in its sustainability, most Chinese cities still have a long way to go in narrowing their gaps with global benchmark cities. Major gaps between Chinese cities and their international benchmarks exist in the social, economic, and environmental aspects, such as urban employment, per capita number of doctors, industrial air pollution, sewage treatment, etc.
It should be noted that unlike the Chinese cities sampled, the international benchmark cities are nevertheless able to improve their levels of sustainability, even after they reach the turning points of development. That is to say, leading international cities do not have to sacrifice social security, stability and high-efficiency resource utilization while enjoying the economic advantages brought by high population density.
For the moment, the more-developed Chinese cities may still be able to sustain a relatively high level of sustainability when they have past the turning points of development. But the potential for growth is very limited if their current models of development remain unchanged. Therefore, these cities should learn from leading international cities and transform their development models for greater progress in the future.
5. Cities can, at any stage of their development, gain sustainability by leveraging their own strengths, natural advantages and policy instruments.
The future of cities is not determined by their current GDP, or by the size and density of their population. At any stage of their development, cities can gain sustainability by leveraging their own strengths, natural advantages and policy instruments. Although no common patterns are found in the study of 185 sample cities, the report has made a few summarizations:
Cities at an early stage of economic development have greater potential to make significant improvements in sustainability. Jieyang is a typical case. Increases in productivity (per capita GDP), growths of economic scale (population and density), and external factors such as FDI and migration, can more efficiently help such cities to develop sustainably.
When a city is more developed economically, imbalances and conflicts of its economy, society and environment will emerge. Unfortunately, some more-developed, large-scale cites in China are developing at the cost of its society and environment. Lacking advanced ideas of city management, these cities will find it difficult to be any more sustainable following their existing development routes. At this stage, a boost in productivity will help the cities to fuel its sustainable development while enjoying economic growth.
Without solid economic foundation and demographic advantages, small cites should establish mutually-beneficial relations with the big ones. In this way, small cities can leverage the advantages of the city cluster while in turn contributing to the development of the cluster.
The Urban Sustainability Index (USI) is jointly developed by the Urban China Initiative (UCI) and the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI). The first USI report was published in 2011. USI is comprised of a series of indicators that provide a comprehensive assessment of a city’s sustainability in four categories: economy, society, resources and environment. The study also looks into the relations between sub-categories.
The Urban China Initiative (UCI) is a joint initiative of Columbia Global Centers |East Asia, the School of Public Policy and Management of Tsinghua University, and McKinsey & Company. Its mission is to catalyze the next stage of China’s urbanization by developing and piloting effective and innovative solutions to China’s urbanization challenges. It aims to evolve into an independent public-private think tank focusing on China’s urbanization issues.
The McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), the business and economics research arm of McKinsey & Company, was established in 1990 to develop a deeper understanding of the evolving global economy. Our goal is to provide leaders in the commercial, public, and social sectors with the facts and insights on which to base management and policy decisions.