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February 25, 2010

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City life: benefits, challenges

Xu Kuangdi

Xu Kuangdi, born in 1937, graduated from Beijing Institute of Iron and Steel Engineering in 1959 and was a professor there from 1959 to 1963. He has lived and worked in Shanghai for nearly 40 years. He became Mayor of Shanghai in 1995 and President of the Chinese Academy of Engineering in 2002.

World Expo 2010 Shanghai will be hosted in the most populous city in China - Shanghai. Having lived and worked in this city for nearly 40 years, I have witnessed its great changes during the drive to reform and open up the Chinese economy. With such a great attachment to this city and its residents, I would like to take this opportunity to express a few thoughts about urban development.

Cities are the products of the development of human civilizations. Archaeological findings have shown that the world's earliest cities were founded in slave societies over 6,000 years ago and were places of palaces, bustling streets and marketplaces of both slaves and commodities. Ancient Egyptians built their capital Thinis in the lower reaches of the Nile over 5,000 years ago, and our Chinese ancestors constructed their capital city in what today is the city of Kaifeng in Henan Province more than 4,000 years ago. Milestone events of human history have been marked by grand cities: Athens and Rome in ancient times, Chang'an and Constantinople in the Middle Ages, and Beijing, Paris, London and St Petersburg, which are all now nearly 1,000 years old. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution in Britain in the late 18th century, the emergence of factories, mining and commercial cities has significantly accelerated the pace of urbanization. Today, nearly half of the global population lives in cities, and the number continues to grow. The situation is the same here in China.

The flourishing development of cities comes from their comparative advantages. In cities, enterprises can produce huge amounts of value-added goods thanks to the high concentration and efficient circulation of capital, commodities, technologies, information and human resources.

At the same time, urban residents can enjoy a better lifestyle thanks to the aggregation of commercial buildings and civil infrastructure, convenient transport, supplies of water, electricity and gas, commercial and financial services, emerging information services, and a wide range of social service networks that address culture, education, health, public security and judicial administration. Today, cities have become political, economic, cultural and information centers for their surrounding areas and even for their countries. It is no exaggeration to say that cities are the bearers of advanced production and culture.

Still, everything has two sides. In their history of development, cities across the world have been infected with various, often complicated "urban diseases" that are hard to treat: shortages in daily necessities like residential housing, water, electricity and gas; insufficient supply of educational, cultural, health care and commercial services; traffic jams; environmental pollution; and concentration of wastes. The "diseases" caused by over-concentrations of population haunt cities across the globe. In addition, many metropolises suffer badly from remiss security administration, wide gaps between rich and poor, soaring crime rates and constant racial conflicts.

Over the past 30 years since its reform and opening-up, China has seen its urbanization rate jumping to 46 percent in 2008 from 18 percent in 1978. Many older cities have been completely revamped, and new ones have mushroomed across the country. China's great achievements in urban development have amazed the whole world. By 2020, its urbanization rate is expected to exceed 60 percent.

We learn from history. We review what has gone before in order to try to avoid the mistakes of the past. The theme of World Expo 2010 Shanghai is "Better City, Better Life," I hope our future cities will be centers of harmonious material and spiritual development, of full employment and comfortable living, of convenient transport and a beautiful environment. I also hope they will become centers of innovation and entrepreneurship, flourishing culture and education, and caring social security and medical systems. To this end, it is necessary for us to make people-oriented, coordinated, sustainable and all-encompassing development our top goal in future urban construction. So long as urban administrators in all cities join hands to work toward this common goal, we will surely have better cities tomorrow.

To conclude, I wish every success to World Expo2010 Shanghai.


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