Professor Wu is Bartlett Professor of Planning at UCL. His research into socially sustainable urbanisation is helping to shape Chinese urban and planning policies. He regularly collaborates with Chinese academics and engages with Chinese policymakers to help China achieve a sustainable urban future.
Professor Wu was among the recipients of the UCL-Peking University (PKU) Strategic Partner Funds in 2017 and 2018. Here, he speaks about his work with colleagues at PKU, and what he hopes to achieve with the latest round of funding.
How did you first become interested in urban studies?
I grew up in Shanghai but when it comes to urban studies, historically, all examples have been from Western Europe or America. The Chinese have a long history of urban planning, so there is a lot of potential in that area, and at UCL we want to use Chinese cities as a laboratory to understand current urban changes, and develop new understanding and theories.
Could you outline the Bartlett’s relationship with China?
The Bartlett has always seen China as a major focus area geographically, partly because a lot of our students are from China, but also because a lot of our research focuses on China. I’m part of a research group called the China Planning Research Group, and we organise regular seminars looking at urban planning in the country.
What are the main aims of UCL’s collaboration with PKU?
PKU is very strong in terms of urban research and planning and today, the development of fast urbanisation in China means a need to revise or reformulate urban theories: we can’t just use the traditional West European/American model. The second aim is to understand urbanisation in China on the ground – its particular history, character, political economy and its trajectory of development in terms of pace.
What can the West learn from China’s approach to urban planning?
In the West, urban planning is regarded as a fairly negative constraint. In China, planning plays a very important role in stimulating development. We can understand why planning plays such a proactive role. UK researchers could learn from the Chinese in how to plan, co-ordinate and regulate city planning. In the past, the Chinese have emphasised speed but now China also emphasises quality, and the UK could share their experience of this.
Currently, we’re studying the Chinese land development model, and I have just finished an ESRC project with Professor Jennifer Robinson from UCL’s Department of Geography on governing future cities – which compares Shanghai, London and Johannesburg. It’s a look at how cities manage mega projects.
So in Shanghai, we looked at a major new town development, and in London we looked at the similarly large-scale Park Royal development. We compare different development projects to work out what’s the best future for organising mega urban projects, particularly from the planning perspective.
You first received the UCL-PKU Strategic Partner Funds in 2017 – what were they used for?
They mainly supported a jointly-organised international conference in London. Around ten professors from PKU came to London for the conference. It was comprehensive – one of the largest on Chinese cities organised outside of China – and covered many topics.
For this coming workshop, we’ve deliberately kept it smaller, to allow more time for discussion. One intention is to develop a voice from inside China. With PKU research, there may be a few presentational or interpretational issues, but we want to help the inside story be known outside of China, so we’ll pair researchers from the two institutions to help make this happen, to discuss papers and perspectives and hopefully get more in depth research outcomes.