Urban-Rural Planning and the Sustainable Development Goals

The Source
By: Guest contributor, Mon Oct 2 2023

Author: Guest contributor

Prof. Wu Zhiqiang, Editor-in-Chief of the new, fully open access journal Frontiers of Urban and Rural Planning, shares his insights into planning in China, and the challenge of explaining China’s urban and rural planning and spatial planning practices to the West and the world.

The new and fully open access (OA) journal Frontiers of Urban and Rural Planning is a unique platform focused on all aspects of urban and rural planning. It aims to introduce the latest exploration of urban and rural planning and spatial planning practices, to some extent from a Chinese perspective. 

Understanding local traditions and processes is an essential part of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as their implementation requires “localization”. Adapting the SDGs to local contexts and priorities necessitates an understanding of the variation and differentiation in concepts and procedures. 

In the following, Editor-in-Chief of Frontiers of Urban and Rural Planning, Prof. Wu Zhiqiang, shares his insights into the importance of navigating the tensions between traditional/modern and Chinese/Western in planning, and what should drive urban planning considering its prominent presence throughout the SDGs. 

P_44243_Cover image © Springer Nature 2023
How does Chinese urban and rural planning differ from that of the West, in your view? And what is the mission of Frontiers of Urban and Rural Planning in this context of the variation between traditional Chinese and Western planning? 

In the launch editorial of Frontiers of Urban and Rural Planning, I explored the original and modern interpretations of the characters that make up the word “guihua (planning)” in Chinese. There is a poetic sense hidden in the original meaning of the traditional context, through which the many traditional Chinese cultural aspects in contemporary “guihua (planning)” come to light. The challenge in explaining the state of China’s urban-rural planning lies in this tension between traditional and modern understandings of “planning”, just as it does in the tension between Chinese and Western approaches to planning. 

When trying to understand contemporary planning in China from the perspective of Chinese culture, we find many traditional elements. The composition of neighborhoods, for example, includes such concepts as “home”, “traditional villages”, “temples”, and “ancestral halls”: These serve as organization methods for life in traditional Chinese family concepts, but they also place Chinese planning at odds with modern Western city planning. 

The fact that urban planning follows strictly Western theoretical frameworks and knowledge means that numerous phenomena common in daily life in China are often not addressed. Frontiers of Urban and Rural Planning aims to fill this lacuna by offering a colorful range of perspectives, and exploring policies, techniques, and methods relating to planning, that often differ substantially from Western perceptions, as is the case in China. Exploring the state of China’s planning, as well as its history and development, serves to explain the uniqueness and variance of China’s urban and rural planning and spatial planning practices. 

What do you consider to be the drivers of planning, and what should direct the practice in this field moving forward, especially in the context of the SDGs?

SDG11 is directly focused on urban and rural planning, but human settlements are referred to in the targets and indicators of many SDGs. About two-thirds of all SDG targets will need to be met in or by cities, as the central form of human settlement, which makes urban planning a vital part of achieving the SDGs. 

The discipline of urban and rural planning has been closely intertwined with the urban and rural residents from its inception, and it has evolved with the increasing demands of the citizens and villagers. Whenever we talk about urban and rural planning, we cannot separate it from the basic needs of people. This means that people's expectations of a better life determine the expectations for the training of planning professionals.

The essence of urban and rural planning is the creation of space and the sustainable maintenance of spatial carriers for ecology, production, and living. Regardless of how the future changes and the challenges it brings, there will always be five forces driving urban and rural planning: (1) Serving the urban and rural populations; (2) Guiding future development; (3) Having the ability to innovate and structure; (4) Implementing practical capabilities; (5) Self-improvement capabilities of the discipline.

What is the focus of your research work?

My research work has three focuses. Firstly, to study and attempt to explain the laws of urban development. Using mathematical methods, I verify the laws of urban development that I have been accumulating through my research and practical work as an urban planning practitioner. 

Secondly, I am constructing and continuously expanding an urban database, documenting successful drafts and outlines of the development of human communities prepared by planners and architects. This is intended to support both research on urban development laws and proposed plans. 

Thirdly, my team and I make projections on the future of cities with the help of artificial intelligence. We use digital intelligence tools to understand what kind of results our design will have on people flow, economy, ecological environment, and cultural prosperity of the city. 

The societal impact of research is crucial for tackling the major global challenges facing humanity, such as those embodied in the SDGs. Considering your experience in both academia and practice, what do you think is the most important support that early career researchers would benefit from, to maximize their societal impact? 

Supporting early career researchers to maximize the societal impact of their work is very important in our field, especially since the research could serve to guide and support the realization of SDG11 and the targets of other SDGs that relate to human settlements.

Generally speaking, support for early career researchers should include facilitating access to funding, mentorship and professional development opportunities, research networks and collaborations, opportunities for public engagement and communication, and supporting interdisciplinary and innovative approaches to research. 

Additionally, there may be specific support needed depending on the researcher's field, such as access to specialized equipment or resources, data sharing and access, and support for translation and implementation of research findings into real-world applications.

Lastly, it is important to encourage and support young researchers to cross disciplines and bridge the gap between academia, industry, and research. Throughout their academic careers, they should engage in interdisciplinary collaboration, as every climb to the summit of knowledge is accomplished through interdisciplinary efforts. This is particularly important for the support of research to achieving the inherently interdisciplinary and interconnected SDGs.

Find out more about Frontiers of Rural and Urban Planning. The journal is fully open access, and fully sponsored by Tongji University, so authors do not need to pay an article processing charge (APC).

And to stay up to date with the latest research and insights on urban research, visit Springer Nature’s SDG11: Sustainable Cities and Communities Hub, part of the Sustainable Development Programme.

Zhiqiang Wu © Springer Nature
About the author: 

Zhiqiang Wu, Editor-in-Chief, Frontiers of Rural and Urban Planning

Prof. WU Zhiqiang is Professor of Urban Planning of Tongji University, Member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, China National Master of Engineering Survey and Design, Member of the German Academy of Science and Engineering (aca tech), Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Science, and Honorary Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (Hon.FAIA).

Prof. WU serves as a member of the Academic Degrees Committee of the State Council, the first convener of the urban and rural planning discipline evaluation group of the Academic Degrees Committee of the State Council co-chair of international steering committee of World Planning School Congress, permanent member of UNSECO UIA (international Union of Architects), member of advisory committee-creative economy-United Nations special unit for south-south cooperation, UNDP, vice president of Urban Planning Society of China, vice president of China Association of Building Energy Efficiency, and vice president of China Green Building Council.


Author: Guest contributor

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