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Shenzhen as China’s Pioneer “Sponge City”: Dialogue with The Nature Conservancy

  • Published: 12 December 2018
  • Author: Gloria Luo

Climate proofing cities against rising sea levels and flooding is becoming increasingly important as climate change worsens. Achieving this would require proactive sustainable water management and pioneering urban design for flood resilience. In China, a striking number – about 98% of all cities – are exposed to frequent flooding due to various reasons such as urbanization‐induced wetland loss and outdated drainage system designs. With the increasing demand for freshwater supply as a result of rapid urbanization, issues like deterioration of water quality and freshwater shortage will only exacerbate the vulnerability of these cities.

In response to this complex and pervasive water challenge, China launched the “Sponge City” program at the end of 2014 that aims to design and construct city infrastructure that can absorb and capture rainwater for reuse.

Unpacking the concept of “Sponge City”

The idea behind the “Sponge City” approach is to revitalize urban landscape and enable cities to mimic natural water cycle. This is done by replacing hard, impermeable surfaces with permeable, spongy materials and features like green roofs, rain gardens and wetlands to capture and retain rainwater for future use. The concept is similar to other stormwater management approaches such as the low impact development adopted in the United States and the water sensitive urban design in Australia. Its benefits include:

  • reducing environmental impacts of urban development and construction projects
  • transforming cities for resilience and adaptation to environmental changes and natural disaster
  • improving urban liveability
  • reducing economic losses of flooding

These benefits can further attract investment opportunities in infrastructure development and new technologies.

Setting ambitious targets for water resilience

China’s State Council has set an ambitious national target to transform urban areas of Chinese cities to absorb, retain, and reuse 70% of the rainwater. The target has been set in such a way that 20% of the urban areas would need to achieve this by 2020 and for 80% of urban areas or above to achieve this by 2030. Today, 30 pilot cities have been selected by the Ministry of Housing and Rural-Urban Development to join the program. Each pilot city can receive designated subsidies from the central government from about USD 57 million to USD 86 million per year for three consecutive years. The amount of investments required to meet the target is expected to be USD 302 billion by 2020 and USD 1 trillion by 2030. Investment gaps can be supplemented with funding raised from provincial governments, local governments, financial institutions or public-private-partnership.

Progress to date: spotlight on Shenzhen

Four years have passed since the program was launched and a number of studies have been conducted to evaluate its effectiveness and to identify challenges that might hinder further progress. To gain first-hand insights into the program implementation, we interviewed The Nature Conservancy (“TNC”), who has been partnering with the Paradise Foundation and the Sponge City Office of the Shenzhen municipal government since December 2016 to establish and promote Shenzhen as China’s pioneer sponge city. According to the China Low-Carbon and Green Index for Cities, Shenzhen leads the way in sustainable urban development among 115 Chinese cities.

Here is a quick summary of what we discussed:

  • The importance of civic participation

CSR Asia: In your efforts related to the partnership with the Shenzhen government, can you briefly describe your role and major contributions? Have you observed a trend in adopting cross-sector collaboration for other pilot cities in China when implementing the “Sponge City” program?

TNC: One of our priority areas as a civil society organization is to build healthy cities, which aligns with the objective of the “Sponge City” program to promote green infrastructure. In this partnership, TNC provides technical expertise from years of experience in urban conservation in Shenzhen. Our role is to enhance community engagement for program implementation on the ground. So far, Shenzhen is the only pilot city in China that has partnered with CSOs like us to form a cross-sector partnership.

  • Increased awareness as foundation of action and impact

CSR Asia: TNC has been involved in the implementation of six voluntary demonstration sites in Shenzhen, including the partnership with Tencent to transform its new headquarters into a green, intelligent and user-friendly building. In view of the progress to date, what are the major challenges hindering further progress in your work?

TNC: Shenzhen has sets an ambitious goal to transform 20% of urban areas by 2020 and 80% by 2030 to meet “Sponge City” infrastructure requirements. The scale and complexity present a challenge to the government who couldn’t manage the transformation alone. At the same time, the “Sponge City” concept is indeed a very nascent idea to businesses and communities, the majority of whom still view the program merely as municipal engineering projects. Very often, the public is not fully aware of the benefits of green infrastructure to people’s health, community livelihood and the economy, why they should be involved, and how to contribute.

By carrying out demonstration projects like the ‘Urban Mountains’ project in Gangxia, we create opportunities for people to experience the improvements on urban micro environments and to understand what a resilient city is. This increase of awareness can then be further translated into local collective action for greater impact.

  • Green infrastructure engenders a sustainable mindset

CSR Asia: Shenzhen has recently been selected as one of the three sustainable development zones in China and aims to be a global model city for innovation and sustainable development by 2035. With the city’s impressive efforts like electrifying its entire bus fleet, how does the “Sponge City” program fit into, or is influenced by, the context of the city’s strategic vision?

TNC: The direct impact of the “Sponge City” program falls upon greening Shenzhen’s physical infrastructure, which can be captured by more visible and measurable outcomes like controlling stormwater runoff. What has been less emphasized, however, is that the program also has an impact on developing the “soft side” of cities. By increasing the amount of green and open space that were lost to urbanization, the program echoes the worldwide trends we are witnessing today that encourage human-centered designs, social interactions, and the cultivation of sustainable lifestyles. The dual-goal of the program thus contributes to Shenzhen’s sustainable vision by realizing water management objectives while at the same time bringing nature back into cities and everyday life.

  • Key takeaways for moving forward

CSR Asia: What are the three lessons learned that you think are the key to successful implementation of sponge city projects and can be applied to other cities and contexts in China?

TNC: 1. Advocacy: to adopt a strategic communication plan for stakeholder engagement to enhance public awareness; 2. Collaboration: to provide more room for collaboration with CSOs to supplement government’s efforts; 3. Governance: to link third-party opinions (from partners such as project engineers and CSOs) to performance of the government when conducting self-assessment at the municipal level, which is a model of good governance the Shenzhen government is adopting.


If you are interested in learning more about TNC’s conservation efforts in Shenzhen, or would like to be part of this exciting partnership to promote Shenzhen as China’s pioneer sponge city, please contact: Mr. Xin YU (Fish), Shenzhen Conservation Director at The Nature Conservancy at [email protected].


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Sharing of information collected

Service Providers

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ELEVATE acknowledges that you have the right to access your personal information. If personal information pertaining to you as an individual has been submitted to us by an ELEVATE customer and you wish to exercise any rights you may have to access, correct, amend, or delete such data, please inquire with our customer directly, because ELEVATE personnel have limited ability to access data our customers submit to our services.

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ELEVATE has implemented generally accepted standards of technology and operational security in order to protect personally identifiable information from loss, misuse, alteration or destruction. ELEVATE’s policy is to use secure socket layer technology for the protection of credit card information submitted through web forms. This policy is also required for any fulfilment agents of our firms.

The security of your information is important to us. ELEVATE has implemented safeguards to protect the information we collect. However, no website or Internet transmission is completely secure. We urge you to take steps to keep your personal information safe, such as choosing a strong password and keeping it private, as well as logging out of your user account, and closing your web browser when finished using ELEVATE websites on a shared or unsecured device.

Children

ELEVATE understands the importance of protecting children’s privacy especially in an online environment. This website is not intentionally designed for or directed at children 13 years of age or younger. It is ELEVATE’s policy never to knowingly collect or maintain information about anyone under the age of 13.

Mobile applications

Without limiting the generality of this privacy statement, in addition to information gathered through its websites or submitted to its services, ELEVATE may obtain information through applications (“mobile applications”) that customers or their authorized individuals (“users”) download to, and run on, their mobile devices (“devices”). Mobile Applications provided by ELEVATE may obtain information from, or access data stored on, Users’ Devices to provide services related to the relevant Mobile Application. For example, a Mobile Application may: access a camera on a User’s Device to enable the User to upload photographs to the Services; access the call history on a User’s Device to enable the User to upload that information to the Services; access calendar information on a User’s Device to enable the User to match meeting attendees with contacts submitted by the User to the Services; access the geographic location of a User’s Device to enable the User to identify contacts submitted by the User the Services who are nearby; or access contact information on a User’s Device to enable the User to sync contact information between the information that is stored on the User’s Device and the information that is submitted to the Services. Information obtained to provide Mobile Application services may include information obtained in preparation for anticipated updates to those services. Mobile Applications may transmit information to and from Devices to provide the Mobile Application services.

Mobile Applications may provide ELEVATE with information related to Users’ use of the Mobile Application services, information regarding Users’ computer systems, and information regarding Users’ interaction with Mobile Applications, which ELEVATE may use to provide and improve the Mobile Application services. For example, all actions taken in a Mobile Application may be logged, along with associated information (such as the time of day when each action was taken). ELEVATE may also share anonymous data about these actions with third party providers of analytics services. In addition, if a User downloads a ELEVATE Mobile Application after clicking on a third-party mobile advertisement for the Mobile Application or for ELEVATE, the third-party advertiser may provide ELEVATE with certain information, such as the User’s Device identification information, which ELEVATE may use to track the performance of its advertising campaigns.

Customers may configure ELEVATE Mobile Application services, and the information accessed or obtained by the Mobile Application on a User’s Device may be affected by the Customer’s configuration. In addition, if a Customer purchases more than one Service from ELEVATE and its affiliates, a Mobile Application may be designed to interoperate with those Services; for instance, to provide a User with access to information from any or all of those Services or to provide information from a User’s Device to any or all of those Services. Information accessed or obtained by the Mobile Application on a User’s Device may be accessible to the Customer and its organization, depending on the intended functionality of the Mobile Application. ELEVATE may provide updated versions of its Mobile Applications. If your mobile device’s settings permit, those updates will be downloaded and installed automatically on your mobile device. By installing a ELEVATE Mobile Application on your mobile device, you consent to the downloading and updating of that Mobile Application.

In addition to Mobile Applications offered by ELEVATE, the Company may offer platforms for the creation of third-party Mobile Applications, including but not limited to the ELEVATE platform. Third-parties may obtain information from, or access data stored on, Users’ Devices to provide services associated with any third-party Mobile Applications that Users download, install, use, or otherwise interact with over a ELEVATE platform. ELEVATE’s Mobile Applications may also contain links or integrations to other Mobile Applications provided by third-parties. Third-parties’ use of information collected through third-party Mobile Applications is governed by the privacy statements of such third-parties. The Company encourages you to review the privacy statements of third-party providers of Mobile Applications to understand their information practices.

Notices and contractual terms related to a particular Mobile Application may be found in the End User License Agreement or relevant terms of service for that application. The Company encourages you to review the End User License Agreement or relevant terms of service related to any Mobile Applications you download, install, use, or otherwise interact with to understand that Mobile Application’s information practices. The Mobile Application’s access to information through a User’s Device does not cause that information to be “Customer Data” under ELEVATE’s terms of services or under this Privacy Statement, except as follows: To the extent that a User uses a Mobile Application to submit electronic data and information to a Customer account on our Services pursuant to the Customer’s Master Subscription Agreement with ELEVATE (or a similar agreement that governs the Customer’s subscription(s) to ELEVATE’s Services), that information constitutes “Customer Data” as defined in such agreement, and the provisions of that agreement with respect to privacy and security of such data will apply. Additional information about the Company’s privacy and security practices with respect to Customer Data is available here.

Changes to this Privacy Statement

ELEVATE reserves the right to modify or amend this Statement at any time by publishing an updated version here. The current version of the statement will be accessible on this website. If we make any changes to this Privacy Policy that materially change how we treat your personal information, we will endeavor to provide you with reasonable notice of such changes, such as via prominent notice on the relevant ELEVATE website or to your email address of record, and where required by law, we will obtain your consent or give you the opportunity to opt out of such changes.

This Privacy Policy was last modified on 24 May 2018 and goes into effect immediately.

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