News and Updates

News April 2016

Live Review from AWIC 2016: Day 4 – Smart Cities on the Asia Pac Platform

Day 4 – Shanghai, Smart Cities and Snap Opportunities with the PM

Today, will be the first day of our trip starting and ending in the same hotel here in Shanghai as we participate in the Australia Week in China 2016 gala trade address and official luncheon, with 1000 delegates from Australia and another 1000 local Shanghai business representatives.

Having spent much of the day inside, and only one taxi ride too and from the convention, there was not much standing out any more. Seemingly, I have become increasingly de-sensitised to the density, development and sheer scale of China. So even now, things which would have caught my eye and interest three days ago, now slips by without a second glimpse.

However, there were definitely some eye opening, interesting and somewhat scary facts presented today by a broad variety of AWIC speakers, largely around the sheer, enduring juggernaut that is the Chinese economy, and why the world should not fear it coming to an end anytime soon.

With urbanisation currently sitting at around 50%, the new China five year plan adopted late in 2015, has set urbanisation targets to grow by 1% per annum for the next 5 years. Doesn’t sound like much in those numbers, but that equates to a total of 75 million new city dwellers in 5 years, or 15 million per annum. This equates to the creation of the entire urbanity of Australia three times over, in just the next five years alone – staggering growth on any level.

But what will support that growth? A controlled shift away from narrow reliance upon manufacturing and resource reliance, and a push into services industries has been set by the Chinese government and now, they have significant services, a knowledge sector and a clear push into e-commerce which is only expected to continue to grow.

It was also stated that whilst the growth in China has somewhat slowed to 6%, it is still sitting at double the rest of the global economic rate, currently marked at 3% – this is the same as adding the entire economy of New Zealand to itself, each month.

At this point I should mention that aligning 1000 international delegates from diverse trade backgrounds into just a single mission is a massive undertaking, so well done to Austrade for pulling off this critical event.

It is here that the day starts to kick up a notch, and get a bit weird, yet remarkable. I was approached by an Austrade representative, who we have spent more than 15 years together working here in China. Their request? Would I be willing to meet with the Australian Prime Minister, The Honourable Malcolm Turnbull, along with a handful of other exporters to discuss working in China, the opportunities for Australian business and the new Australia-China Free Trade Agreement.

Let me think about that for a moment………

So I was whisked off to stand alongside the Prime Minister himself, with a small handful of other experts and 20 of his closest journalists and cameraman friends.

It was a great opportunity to meet Prime Minister Turnbull and share our Place Design Group Australia/China story. We discussed the important opportunities I see for Australia in sharing our expertise in Urban Planning, Cities and Smart City thinking with the world.

So whilst an obvious highlight of the trip, I was then doubly surprised when I was fortunate enough to also meeting the Prime Minister’s wife and acclaimed Australian Businesswoman, Philanthropist and former Lord Mayor of Sydney, Mrs Lucy Turnbull AO.

Together, we discussed her new role as the Chief Commissioner of the Greater Sydney Commission (GSC) and the work we at Place Design Group have been doing here, particularly in the Smart Cities space. I thoroughly respect Lucy and her influential and important work to date, and look forward to seeing the great outcomes produced by the GSC in the coming future, understanding that her vision for Smarter Cities back home is firmly on the GSC’s agenda.

Once the media conference was over, and all opportunity and discussion exhausted, we said goodbye, and the Prime Minister his entourage continued on with their busy schedule, progressing to his next leg in Beijing to meet with the Chinese Premier.

And so where better for us to take stock, and gain broader perspective on the Shanghai happenings of this monumental mission, than to visit the equally as big, Shanghai Planning Exhibition.

Now this was a tremendous example that planning doesn’t need to be hidden, daggy or boring and that telling the story of a city and doing so in an interesting way, puts planning in to a new space, where people are keen to be engaged. So whilst it is arguably a tourist gimmick, anyone who builds a scale model of a city of 25 million people which it covers is simply amazing. And it was.

If we as a profession want the public and people to engage in planning, then I would consider this model as an awesome and ultimately simple tool, not to mention valuable example of how doing something, that no doubt isn’t cheap, but has become a sought out tourist destination and has even become part of the education program for schools across Shanghai.

I should note that this was not our first scale model viewing on the trip. Maquettes are a common occurrence, and in fact every city, project and company literally have these models in varying scales. But none of them have been less than 3x3m in size, and some have been enormous and often with fancy video overlays.

The other point to make here is that comparatively speaking, the Chinese have not created this model as a sales gimmick. They have done it to recognize the value of visually conveying their project or city to the masses. I think we can learn a lot from China about visually communicating planning this way, given it is often so difficult to communicate complex planning in an intelligible, written form.

So after a day of trade, dignitaries and smart city planning overload, it is back to the hotel, and my courage is up high enough to attempt a peak hour metro ride to the district of our hotel. Again, this is a clear example of the efficiency with which Shanghai moves its 25 million people around and why a semblance of order is so critical when dealing with such intensive density.

NB. Chris Isles, is in China from 11-15 April representing the best of Australian Planning and Urban Design at Austrade’s International Smart Cities Forum for Australia Week In China (AWIC 2016).