China's smart cities swagger - and what it can teach the U.S.

Tue, 2013-05-07 12:04 -- Jesse Berst

A non-profit executive touring China with California Gov. Jerry Brown wrote Environmental Leader to tell about the lessons he is learning from China's cities. Yes, they suffer from smog and other growth problems. But take a closer look, he says, and you'll find that they have a certain swagger -- and one they deserve for their willingness to gamble on bold ideas. Based on my last visit to China, I absolutely agree. -- Jesse Berst

Michael Schmitz, who is Executive Director of ICLEI–Local Governments for Sustainability USA, writes in the Environmental Leader that in every Chinese city he visited he heard local government leaders express a hunger for solutions to air quality, greenhouse gas emissions and renewable energy.

As Schmitz put it: "They have the swagger of Silicon Valley venture capitalists -- willing to experiment and gamble on bold ideas, and to make mistakes and learn from them."

Schmitz notes that nearly every major policy or technological approach to sustainability that is happening in the U.S. is also happening in China – but on a much larger scale. In fact, he says the scale is so large it's hard to comprehend without seeing it firsthand.

He says city leaders in the U.S. could learn a lesson from the experimentation and breakneck pace underway in China as they pursue sustainable development. In particular he mentions Chinese agendas for electric vehicles, a build-from-scratch future tech city and city cap-and-trade programs for large polluters.

"Over the next 20 years," Schmitz writes, "an estimated 350 million Chinese will resettle in urban areas, the greatest human migration in history. As China races to accommodate this change, there are invaluable lessons to be learned from their successes and failures. It is imperative that Chinese city leaders and their counterparts around the world connect to share what’s working or failing."