Modeling Sponge Cities: the governance of urban runoff and spatial practices in Shenzhen

Authors: Dorothy Tang*, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Topics: China, Urban and Regional Planning
Keywords: Sponge Cities, Green Infrastructure, Shenzhen
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Maryland C, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

In 2013, President Xi Jinping announced a program to convert all Chinese cities into “Sponge Cities” by 2030 to lessen urban flooding. The program adopts an ecological approach to managing urban runoff through dispersed landscapes that reduce peak flow, encourage infiltration, and improve surface water quality through bioretention and bioremediation technologies. By 2016, thirty pilot cities received central funding to retrofit their drainage infrastructure as the rest of the nation gears up to meet this ambitious environmental goal. In particular, the southern city of Shenzhen has emerged as an exemplar for the planning and implementation of sponge city projects.

Shenzhen’s success is attributed to the technical expertise developed at the Urban Planning and Design Institute of Shenzhen (SUPDI) and setting up “Sponge City Offices” in each district for coordination, regulation and construction. SUPDI is now positioned as an authority in sponge city planning and they have started to systematically disseminate the Shenzhen experience nation-wide. This paper traces this model of planning and implementation of sponge city projects in two districts of Shenzhen, including road construction, public parks, new developments, and neighborhood upgrades, to understand how centrally mandated policies are carried out at the district level. Public-private partnership financing models play a pivotal role in the construction of these new infrastructural landscapes and shape development patterns of the city. In addition, the existing urban composition dictate the types of infrastructural conversions possible and its specialized maintenance regimes reinforce spatial inequalities.

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