Speech by Maurice Strong at closing session of Shanghai Expo 31 October 31, 2010
The theme of this historic Expo reminds us that without better cities people cannot expect better lives. It demonstrates the many practical and innovative ways in which our cities can indeed enable people everywhere to achieve the better lives to which they aspire.
It will not be easy. Many of the world’s cities are in the process of deterioration even as they grow and are increasingly vulnerable to the risks of climate change, natural disasters and polluted environments. There must be a radical transformation of existing cities and their relationship with the hinterlands on which they depend for energy, water, food and the many other essential supplies and services. The pressures of the growing numbers of a still increasing population which must be accommodated in the cities requires establishment of large numbers of new cities.
Both existing and new cities must be green. To be green they must be clean if they are to provide a better life to their residents. All must be truly eco-cities. This movement is already well under way in China as Expo demonstrates in so many ways.
Eco-cities must be planned and developed as complex systems using the most sophisticated of networking, computer, materials, building and energy technologies. The economic and social conditions of each city will be distinctive and must be understood in terms of the intensity, density, use of space and transportation systems which link them both within the city and beyond. This requires a rational distribution of their population and the relationship between where people live and where they work.
The location of industry is of special importance - in its relationship to transport, accessibility to employees and, of course, the primary contribution they must make to environmental sustainability and reduction of carbon emissions. To meet these monumental challenges cities must be understood and developed not merely as places but as urban systems.
New generation of experts
The premises and the norms that determined the development of existing cities must give way to a new generation of experts and planners and most of all leaders and managers. Each with their specialized skills must also be integrators able to ensure that their specialized expertise in city development makes their essential contribution to its systemic nature.
This Expo is an impressive manifestation of the innovative design, concepts, materials and construction techniques which will be the key to successful eco-cities. China already has an impressive and growing array of such skills and expertise and it is also using some of the best sources of foreign expertise in transforming and building its cities. It is giving priority as it must to education and training of the technicians, the specialized experts, the integrators, the managers and the leaders on whom the success of the urban revolution depends.
One of the greatest challenges facing both existing and new cities will be their continued access to water, energy, food supplies and other essential services under conditions that meet the rigorous standards required for achievement of sustainability. Cities are the primary centers of economic development. China’s continuing growth in accordance with its commitment to harmonious and sustainable development guided by science depends on the continued transformation of its economy centered in its cities. In meeting its own economic needs and objectives China is also establishing a new economic model that is having a profound influence on other countries.
For Cities to provide a better life for their people they must prepare for growing risks to their future.
Cities located in low-lying coastal areas where so much of the population lives as well as in vulnerable islands must give priority to measures which will mitigate, if not prevent, the damaging consequences of rising sea levels due to global warming. New cities must be located in areas, mostly inland, which are not subject to such risks.
For China this is further reason to give priority to development of its inland areas to which its government is committed.
Demographics is a primary driver both of the process of the urbanization and its economic consequences. Cities are linked with the global economy and it is this which largely attracts people to cities. This process has been accelerating. Half of the world’s population was urban in 2007 and by 2030 the United Nations estimates that nearly 80% of people will live in the cities of the developing world.
At the same time the world’s population is aging. Every country is experiencing this in varying degrees. And as its population ages, its economy becomes less competitive.
China’s remarkable economic progress owes much to the fact that it is mainly the young who have moved from the rural area to the cities. But the advantages of this are diminishing as China’s population ages.
China is expected to experience the doubling of its population of 65-year-olds or more in 25 years, a process that took more than a century in more developed countries. There is much evidence that it is the cities with the youngest populations that will lead economic growth in the period ahead. But none will escape the inevitable and irreversible economic effects of aging. Those who are planning the development of new cities and the transformation of existing ones must understand and prepare for the economic and social effects of aging populations.
China’s distinctive system of governance with the relationship between the Communist Party and all levels of government is particularly well suited to meeting these monumental challenges. China is giving high priority to the further development and improvement of the professional leadership and management that it is required to achieve sustainable development. No county is better positioned than China to lead the way. It has already made an impressive start on this new journey to a better life.