USC Price School of Public Policy

Global Sustainable Urban Indicators in China

Students Assess ‘Sustainable Urban Indicators’ in China

By Ben Dimapindan

Sustainable Urban Indicators in China SPPD students presented research to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development officials.

This past spring, six graduate students from the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development presented research findings on “Global Sustainable Urban Development Indicators in China” to officials from several federal agencies, scholars and practitioners from the private and nonprofit sectors.

As part of SPPD’s “Professional Practice of Public Administration” course, taught by adjunct assistant professor Donald Morgan, the students – Caitlin Ishigooka, Jingjie (Ginger) Li, Takeshi Nakamura, Christa Salazar, Vidhu Shekhar and Wenting Wu – were assigned to work on a project for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Office of International and Philanthropic Innovation. The goal of the project was to expand on HUD’s body of research aimed at defining and evaluating indicators of sustainable urban development.

A team from the University of Pennsylvania had conducted research previously on U.S./North American indicators. The USC team, employing similar methodologies, collected and analyzed information on indicators for urban sustainability in China. The USC students categorized indicators based on the Pennsylvania team’s evaluation tools and used the framework developed by HUD, the White House Office of Urban Affairs and leading national experts which focuses on three key dimensions: social well-being, economic opportunity and environmental quality.

“The whole semester could be divided into three major stages,” explained Li. “First, we all started with literature review and began collecting urban sustainable development indicators… Then, we categorized and narrowed down our findings according to the guidelines and principles provided by HUD and UPenn. In the final stage, the team was divided into three small groups: Christa and Caitlin drafted the final report; Vidhu and I prepared the final presentation slides; Wenting and Takeshi were responsible for editing the final list of indicators.”

Salazar added, “It was interesting to see how HUD had embraced the concept of ‘intersectoral leadership’ that we talk about at SPPD… it showed me that many agencies are working on international issues and collaborating across sectors. Also, we were all impressed by the support we got from HUD on this project and their confidence in our abilities.”

The USC students submitted a 35-page final report, which included policy recommendations, to HUD.

Following their presentation, they engaged in a question-and-answer session with the participants.

“They were most interested in the similarities and differences between our research on China and UPenn’s research on North America, which we had also highlighted in our report,” Salazar said.

The students examined indicator data from 17 systems representing nonprofit/nongovernmental organizations (59 percent), Chinese government agencies (29 percent), as well as private organizations and institutions of higher education (each 6 percent).

According to Li, the China indicators focused on the national level rather than the city level, which serves as a stark contrast to the Pennsylvania team’s research.

“The abundance of systems focusing on China as a whole suggest that the country is committed to sustainable development on a large scale, and the fact that the country is rapidly urbanizing means that much of this investment will affect metropolitan areas,” the report stated.

The report compared findings between the United States and China in the areas of social well-being, economic opportunity and environmental quality. Among the similarities and differences:

    Environmental Quality
    Consensus: Indicators of air and water quality, carbon dioxide emissions, and waste treatment and disposal; air and water quality are major concerns for the U.S. and China

    Difference: Acceptable levels of air and water pollution vary greatly between the two countries; as urbanization develops rapidly in China, the noise pollution indicator has become increasingly prevalent in Chinese systems

    Economic Opportunity
    Consensus: Diversity in employment; access to education

    Difference: More indicators related to transportation and other infrastructure coordinated with land use; poverty and income inequality indicators

    Social Well-Being
    Consensus: Access to green space and recreation, health care

    Difference: Access to quality affordable housing ranks far lower in China; no emphasis on public safety

In addition, the students, by assessing the China Statistical Yearbook and China’s current Five-Year Plan, the country’s national strategic development guideline every five years, noted in the report that:

  • An all-round development strategy of economic growth and construction of a political civilization are the Chinese government’s priorities.
  • China wants to fulfill economic growth in a scientific way and build a resource-efficient and environmentally-friendly society.
  • The Five-Year Plan stresses “saving resources, protecting the environment, and building a sustainable national economic system.”
  • Although the Five-Year Plan touches upon social well-being, it is absolutely not the first priority for the government.

Attendees for the students’ presentation, which was done via video conference, included representatives from: U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Transit Administration; Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation; American Planning Association; United Nations Environment Programme; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of International & Tribal Affairs; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Office of Research and Development; Global City Indicators Facility; Inter-American Development Bank; U.S. Green Building Council; ICF International; Cisco; HUD, Affordable Housing Research and Technology Division; HUD, Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities; HUD, Office for International and Philanthropic Innovation; HUD, Office of Policy Development and Research; and the University of Pennsylvania.