Written by Ben Flores
The last half of our trip took us through a whirlwind of different cities. We had a very informative visit to Yixing, which has become known for its environmental protection technology industry. We visited companies in the Yixing Economic and Technological Development Zone, whose planning was carried out by our PIRE faculty member Shi Lei. The environmental focus of the city has emerged – in large part – out of necessity. The city is situated right next to Lake Tai, one of China’s most well-known natural features, surrounded by rich history. Throughout the recent past, Lake Tai has been heavily polluted, and cleaning it up has been a top policy priority. Yixing is famous for its ceramics industry, and heavy production over many decades has resulted in severe soil pollution, an issue which is also rapidly emerging in the consciousness of environmental policy makers. We are all anxious to see whether Yixing’s focus on environmental technology will eventually lead to the mitigation capacity needed to meet its challenges.
Our final destination as a group was Xiamen. Our time was spent preparing our final project presentations and also hearing presentations from government officials and planning professionals. The exchange of presentations and ideas was very stimulating and our students got great feedback from our government guests.
Our program came to a close on Friday night. The next Monday I returned to the city of Qinhuangdao to follow up on our research from a few weeks earlier. This time, I got the opportunity to meet with the local Environmental Protection Bureau. The conversation was frank, and the official I spoke with described the challenges they are facing in implementing environmental improvement: from having their staff stretched thin, to power struggles with other government agencies and large state-owned enterprises, and even to difficulties getting reliable data. After this interview, I felt the entirety of the trip had come full circle. Among our group, we have a lot of ideas and approaches, but this whole trip to China has been a good reminder of the magnitude of the problems we are facing globally and the amount of hard work that is going to be needed to put our urban and industrial systems on the right track. I believe the kind of exchange and cooperation we engaged in throughout this trip is invaluable to making progress on these difficult issues we all are facing.