Health and Resilience in Pacific Cities

Highlights from the 3rd Annual PCSI Forum in Beijing, China

The 3rd Annual Pacific Cities Sustainability Initiative (PCSI) Forum, Healthy City| Resilient City, was held in Beijing, China from April 20-22, 2015. Organized jointly by the Asia Society and Urban Land Institute, the Forum brought together a group of more than 160 leading experts from the private sector, public health, government, non-governmental organizations, and academia from across the globe for a multi-sectoral discussion and insights sharing about the urgent challenges and innovative solutions for creating healthy, resilient, and economically vibrant cities across the Asia-Pacific region. 

The Asia Pacific region is home to some of the world’s largest megacities, such as the host city Beijing. These cities are major drivers of economic growth. However, in many of these cities, greenhouse gases are growing rapidly and there is acute vulnerability to climate change and extreme weather events. Meeting basic human needs-including clean air and water, affordable housing and sufficient green space, then become real challenges.

To address these challenges, the Forum aimed to deepen the understanding and refine the attributes of a healthy, resilient, and sustainable city, and make progress toward ensuring that cities in the Asia-Pacific region are able to prosper in the face of rapid climate change, urbanization, and globalization.

The Forum opened on April 20 with a keynote address by Asia Society Policy Institute President and former Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd. Rudd emphasized that national action often follows actions at the local level, thus cities need to take the lead. On April 21, the Forum began with a keynote by Qiu Baoxing, who is currently a State Counselor and the former Vice Minister of China’s Ministry of Housing and Urban Development. Qiu emphasized that designing cities with a “people first” principle successfully fosters low-impact development.

Subsequent dialogues and discussions explored issues including China’s urban growth trajectory, Beijing’s future, lessons learned from Singapore and other high density Asian cities, the social dimensions of health and resilience, and infrastructure. The Forum also provided an interactive platform for participants to challenge themselves and each other to think in new ways about an old conundrum: how to build and shape cities that enhance and protect the well-being of the people that live in them, while remaining environmentally sustainable at the same time.

To that end, Forum participants worked together to craft principles for integrating health and resilience in Asia Pacific cities, as well as messages for taking these principles forward, beyond the Forum. Draft principles included:

  • Put people first by creating compact, mixed use, transit-oriented communities.
  • Foster communities that are diverse in age/generations, social class, and perspectives. 
  • Make a community’s unique character/spirit, culture, history, and values, and context core to building a sense of place and identity.
  • Increase walkability through fine grain movement network and building sizes; break down super blocks to enhance connectivity.
  • Adopt incremental, adaptive, small-scale approaches and processes to enhance flexibility and build a sense of belonging.

This Forum also included mobile workshops to several sites in Beijing and Shanghai, where delegates were shown praiseworthy attributes of a healthy, resilient city. The Beijing mobile workshop included visits to Tsinghua University, iSoftStone technologies, Beijing Financial Street, Wangfujiang, and Beijing Central Business District. The Shanghai mobile workshop included visits to the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center, Disney Research China, the Changning Non-motorized Transportation Project, the Hub, and Xintiandi. Shanghai workshop attendees then experienced riding the high-speed rail line that connects China’s largest cities, joining Beijing delegates for the Forum.