Review

During the 3rd International Conference on Next Generation Infrastructure Systems for Eco-Cities leading experts in the world have gathered in Shenzhen to discuss the future infrastructure systems for sustainable cities. Participants were treated to fifteen eclectic keynote presentations touching on all aspects of eco-cities. Besides the keynote speakers, acadamic papers were presented and a session on Designing Pingdi as an Eco-City was part of the program.

Opening Ceremony

The 3rd International Conference on Next Generation Infrastructure Systems was opened by professor Martin de Jong, Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands. Professor Tang Jie, vice-mayor of the City of Shenzhen, reflected on the unique history of Shenzhen as a place where “nothing is impossible”. The city of Shenzhen gained a leading position in several markets, and the municipal government has the audacious ambition to restructure its economy into a knowledge economy to create new growth potential that meets the needs of a sustainable economic, social and ecological development of Shenzhen. This vision discloses a new development potential for the outer districts of Shenzhen that have only recently been included in the Special Economic Zone. The opening ceremony also included Ton van Zeeland, Consul-General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Guangzhou. Mr. van Zeeland was very pleased with the collaboration between the City of Shenzhen, Harbin Institute of Technology, HIT/Shenzhen Graduate School, Delft University of Technology (the Netherlands) and the Next Generation Infrastructures Foundation, not only with respect to the organization of this conference, but also with respect to the collaborative research between HIT/SGS, Next Generation Infrastructures and TU Delft on the development of Pingdi district as an eco-city. Professor Margot Weijnen, founding and scientific director of the Next Generation Infrastructures Foundation, explained the challenges of designing and managing interconnected infrastructure systems in the context of eco-city development. She highlighted the social and ecological dimension of infrastructure systems and presented a summary of the plan to develop Pingdi as a world-class knowledge area.

Keynote speakers

The participants of the conference, Chinese and international academics, consultants, governments and professionals were treated to fifteen eclectic keynote presentations touching on all aspects of eco-cities from different disciplinary angles and infrastructure perspectives. Topics ranged from multi-scale governance models and models based on complex networks theory to the development of intelligent and flexible infrastructure systems, such as smart power grids and water management systems. Saskia Sassen elaborated on the importance of infrastructures to connect the highly educated knowledge workers that are needed to make the high value added service economy enabling the emergence of eco-cities. Very relevant keynote presentations were also given on performance indicators for eco-cities, and on eco-city experiences in China and other parts of the world. Furthermore, the decision making process on infrastructure planning and investment decisions, including different approaches to stakeholder involvement, was addressed by many keynote speakers, with telling examples from Europe, the USA, China and HongKong. The lively discussions following the keynote presentations confirmed the viability of the emerging knowledge network connecting infrastructure systems experts and urban planners. Since a city is like a living organism in the sense that it is continuously changing and adapting to changing economic conditions and user needs, it is of vital importance that the infrastructure systems are designed to accommodate this process of continuous change. As infrastructure based services stand at the basis of every economic value chain, the capital intensive infrastructure systems being designed today will also need to cater for the needs of future generations, in a future economy that is full of uncertainties. One approach to deal with this uncertainty that was discussed during the conference is the use of real options theory in the engineering design of infrastructure systems.

Pingdi

One of the drivers for this conference is the collaboration of Next Generation Infrastructures, HIT Shenzhen Graduate School (HITSGS) and Delft University of Technology in the development of a master plan for Pingdi. Two sessions of the conference were focused on the Pingdi eco-city project. Yang GangYong and Zhan KaiPin, officials of Shenzhen Government, Longgang district presented the background of the location and the need for the development. Martin de Jong (Delft University of Technology, Harbin Institute of Technology) presented the results of the research team’s vision for the future of Pingdi, followed by Neville Mars (Dynamic City Foundation) who presented the urban planning concept for the area. Besides the innovative urban planning concept, the masterplan for Pingdi Eco-City brings many other innovations, not only at the level of specific infrastructure technologies (such as smart grids and the Internet-of Things), but also in terms of innovative business models and governance models. Specific features of the masterplan are also found in the attention given to social inclusiveness and the respect paid to the cultural heritage of the region. Especially the latter feature is considered crucial by the research team to ensure that Pingdi Eco-City will have a strong cultural identity which will re-inforce the sense of ownership and pride among the local residents and make it stand out among competing initiatives. The design concepts presented were elaborately discussed by a team of experts and the conference participants.

Background information Pingdi

Pingdi is the region at the intersections of Shenzhen, Huizhou and Dongguan. This place has significant strategic importance in the coming years. A central part of the Pearl River Delta and the global city region reaching from Hong Kong through Shenzhen and Dongguan to Guangzhou, the area has so far remained relatively under-developed. This will change quickly. In 2010, Shenzhen’s Special Economic Zone (SEZ) was expanded to include all sub-districts in the city, including Pingdi, a sub-district of about 160,000 inhabitants in the northern Longgang district. The new status will attract substantial investment and a significantly increased population. Given its situation as a relatively undeveloped green-field on the edge of Shenzhen, the area provides the opportunity to proactively design a pioneering eco-city that allows for a technological and economic leapfrog to an entirely new model of urban development. Defining Pingdi as a pioneer in eco-zone development would significantly enhance the regional, national and global competitiveness of the Pearl River Delta region.

Vision

The plan of the project team proposes a special ECO-zone, which is both a special economic and a special ecological zone, at the borders of Pindgi, Xinxu and Qingxi. It will be a smart and sustainable knowledge area standing out among other eco-city initiatives in China and around the world. The plan is based on developing the city around next generation infrastructures and a clean, green environment that will support and attract innovative, knowledge-intensive and high value-added firms and employees. It includes an innovative spatial design characterized by a dense urban development, an open campus setting, and a cohesive identity set amidst a beautiful and attractive natural environment. Importantly, the plan pays particular attention to developing an effective regional governance model that can support this unique inter-municipal development effort. Pingdi is in the position to become a showcase for the whole country and beyond. To achieve this is no easy task and tremendously ambitious, but the circumstances are propitious. Shenzhen’s financial position is good, the urgency and drive to realize sustainability among responsible policy-makers are high, and the attractiveness of the city to national and international investors is growing.

However ambitious the project may seem, let us keep in mind the words of professor Tang Jie: Nothing is impossible in Shenzhen.