11 May 2017
Sustainable city partnership opportunities in China

A recent visit to Tianjin, major port city in northeast China, by representatives of the UN Global Compact – Cities Programme & RMIT University, looks set to open doors to collaboration between Melbourne’s sister city, RMIT and the Cities Programme to tackle urban challenges such as rapid population growth.

As part of this year’s Tianjin Government Leaders training program, Julia Laidlaw represented the UN Global Compact – Cities Programme, travelling to Tianjin at the end of April to give a keynote address on collaborative approaches to sustainable urban development at the Government Leaders Seminar.  She travelled with Susan Barr, Senior Manager of Executive Education at RMIT and Yu-Wen Chien, RMIT College of Business. Julia was supported by intern, Wenyan Jin, who is from Tianjin.

The visit was part of the preparation for this year’s Tianjin Government Leaders training program, a 12-week capacity building program run at RMIT University featuring a sustainability stream which is being coordinated by the UN Global Compact – Cities Programme. The program sits within China’s national development strategy and aims to support the Coordinated and Innovative Development for Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei region.

Under the program, delivered by RMIT College of Business, up to 20 senior business and government leaders take part in a 12-week business management course at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. Since inception until 2015, 17 groups of government leaders – a total of 291 participants – have been hosted through the program.

On arrival to Tianjin, Julia’s first impressions were of a beautiful city with a fascinating history that is proudly reflected in its buildings and progressive with state of the art architectural buildings but also with a strong focus on integrated energy efficiency and low emission building and green design.


Tianjin Grand Theatre


Diversity of buildings in downtown Tianjin

Julia was warmly hosted, together with the RMIT delegation, by the Tianjin Organisation Department and the Tianjin Administrative Institute. She met with leading urban sustainability scholars and professionals and was provided an opportunity to learn about government, business and academia working together in planning for the sustainable growth of a city, Tianjin, that is growing by half a million people a year.

A number of projects were discussed including: urban regeneration; heritage building preservation and integration into the new urban design; the repurposing of inner city buildings and land; and the Tianjin 2049 Project.

These are all part of the broad work to tackle Tianjin critical challenges in the effort to build a sustainable and prosperous city for the future.

During the visit, Julia and the RMIT delegation also held discussions with Tianjin University, Department of Urban Planning, School of Architecture, which provides fundamental research for government. These include urban project development, Tianjin Urban Planning and Design Institute, an innovation incubator, and the Tianjin Architecture and Design Institute – who have designed and built the highest number of green buildings in Tianjin, including a zero-energy building in their campus.

Together they discussed collaborative research and exchange opportunities between RMIT and the Cities Program and provided a briefing on the new Cities Partnerships initiative, that will work to support cities achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and implement the New Urban Agenda.

A number of opportunities for future collaboration were discussed:

  • Building relationships that facilitate and share research across borders, with a need for research to be available in other languages;
  • Scholar exchanges;
  • There was keen interest in partnering to support Chinese cities participation in City Partnerships
  • Exchanges on city-regional development approaches to sustainability –  related research, training and case studies from cities facing similar problems.

At the end of the short visit, Julia had a greater understanding of the complex issues facing Chinese cities and was inspired by the innovative work underway towards building sustainable cities in China and their relevance to cities around the world that are tackling similar challenges.

”China is in the hot seat with Tianjin growing by an incredible half a million people a year. Managing this population influx in a way that supports healthy liveable cities is a challenge that they are embracing. There is a lot we can learn from what is happening in China. Tianjin, with its strong relationship with Melbourne and RMIT, is a great place to start”.