March 27, 2014

The Future of Urbanization: What Can We Learn from Asian Cities?

past event


As part of Penn IUR’s 10th anniversary event series, four expert panelists joined a moderated discussion examining the challenges and opportunities of urban life in Asia and suggesting lessons learned for cities around the globe. 

The event’s speakers included Stefan Al, Associate Professor of Urban Design, Department of City and Regional Planning, School of Design, University of Pennsylvania; Abha Joshi-Ghani, Director, Knowledge and Learning, The World Bank Institute; Kyung-Hwan Kim, President, Korea Research Institute for Human Settlements (KRIHS); Professor, School of Economics, Sogang University; Bimal Patel, President, CEPT University; and Anthony Yeh Dean of the Graduate School, University of Hong Kong. Penn IUR Co-Director Susan Wachter moderated.

The panelists examined the challenges and opportunities of urban life in Asia and what lessons they provide globally.  Stefan Al noted positive trends in China’s rapid development, such as a lack of slums in cities like Shenzen and hundreds of miles of high-speed rail. He commented on the negative light in which the media casts Asia—particularly China—likening this portrayal to “a post-apocalyptic future.” Al suggested that in fact China should be looked at as an engine of “immense economic growth” on the continent. Anthony Yeh highlighted Hong Kong’s successes and failures as a highly dense city.  He noted that while we can learn a great deal from China’s urbanization strategies, we must also heed their mistakes, particularly in regard to sustainable practices.

Abha Joshi-Ghani took a similarly optimistic viewpoint, emphasizing that Chinese urbanization “has lifted 500 million people out of poverty.”  Bimal Patel commented on the fact that many Indian cities face significant urban challenges, but “are going through an epic transformation.” Both Bimal Patel and Abha Josh-Ghani expressed their views that India still has much to learn about city building: with the growth of large slums with poor access to potable water, sanitation, and transportation, cities in India face many development hurdles. However, those cities, having arrived later on the development scene, have the opportunity to skip over mistakes that cities in the global north made in the last two centuries.


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