When I left Manchester


It is a great pleasure to be here, of course, especially as the visit is very short, just two weeks. I have to say, I am pretty impressed by the friends here, Cecilia Wong, Lei Wang, Bin Sun, Nuno Pinto, etc. just so many and so hard to list all. I appreciate the kind supports of the university, and thanks to MUI, GDI, for hospitality, nice food, etc.. Two week stay is too short for me to understand Manchester, the name I have known well even when I was in primary school in China. I love to be here. As an urban geographer and planner (If I can say so), I have to say, the most impressive thing about Manchester at this moment, is the new constructions, the energetic people, and the typical vibrancy. I am familiar to such atmosphere, as I come from China, where full of new changes and new growth, with an insanely fast speed. We are the same: not afraid of changes, dare to face them. But there are so many for China to learn from Manchester, from UoM, and people here, as the urbanism of China is just fledgling, and there are so long a distance to go, at least as I noted in Manchester. In this vein I am glad there are so many Chinese students here, they come to learn, share and enjoy, and they will take back needed ideas for future China. In the same vein, I will be back soon, and take back something to China, such as new ideas of cooperations, friendships, and a feeling of ‘place attachment’ or belongings. See you, hopefully soon, great Manchester.

Comparative, urban studies

The scholars of urban studies have been attracted by so-called ‘comparative urbanism’, which became a popular term within the literature, and somehow politically right to pursue when publish papers or apply for fundings. It is intriguing to see that the funding regime of the UK now are fond of supporting such projects. Maybe it is the same for the US or north America. Years ago, I have joined the project of ‘Global Suburbanism’, which is very much comparative, and touched on cities or cases across the global. Also the ESRC projects of ‘Mega-project’ led by J Robinson and Fulong also worked in this way, as it targeted on the comparison of Johannesburg, London and Shanghai, to compare these cities of different contexts. The UK and the North now concerns about the case of the South, as there are the rising of BRICS, and there are new growth mainly appeared in the South. Moreover, the impacts of China across the global could be a challenging, so that the North must resort to further input to enhance its soft power across the South.

How to organize a project of comparative urban studies? So to compete against other appliers and win the funding supports? This could be a very challenge issue for any applicants. Is the the same as the question of ‘how to increase the impacts of academic research?’, I am not sure. Across countries now academic studies are no longer taken as ‘pure’ research. Because of the economic slowing down, so that we have to be more austere, more practical, and more ‘bricolage’. Science turns to be engineering. Even the craftsman of states now are increasing be those more practical, engineering, and non-Utopia. Good or Bad? We loss the dream or courage to pursue a better world, I think.

A comparative study will target on different cities across different countries. And then the findings may help readers to understand what is going on across different contexts, what are different, so figure out what we can do to improve the situations. Also it can contribute to the collection of lessons, good examples, and cases. So that it could be a good idea to setup a database or information house for people to share and to learn. This is the idea of co-sharing, quite popular today. To my experiences of working within the group of ‘global suburbanism’, or those projects with Germans in Guangzhou, I think most contributions of the project linking to either publication or conferences, seminars, training of young scholars and students. Somehow it links to the European traditions of schooling, pedagogy or education. This is reasonable as the ‘practical’ contribution of research projects is basically linked to the sharing of knowledge we learn from the study. For planning the lessons should include both those success and those failed, so that when we set up a site to share ideas, for instance, we should include both positive experiences (i.e. the final? book of Peter Hall) and those negative ones (very few such books or sites, but indeed there are such cases such as real estate bubbles or ghost towns of China).

The involvement of local residents, officials, investors, or NGOs are also important, to achieve the practical impacts of the research even during the process we examine cases. As to the study of ‘global suburbaism’, the team decided to focus on governance, land, and infrastructure system; already there are several books on each of the topic came out. There should be targets and focus, of course, for such projects. The strategy of de-center may be important, as then we acknowledge the contribution or knowledge of ‘ordinary city’, cause they also contain knowledge, some may be new even to the North. A website, a weichat group, a series of publication, a number of conferences, seminars, reports for governments or even some ‘quotation’ from government officials, a great deal of trained young scholars, students, etc., could become the major result of so-called academic impacts.

The mobility of knowledge and lessons could merit a lot of people. So the questions also include how to make it mobilize, to achieve impacts.

The talk at Manchester 9/21/17



The Yangtze River New City

The story about this Yangtze River New City (YRNC) has come and gone, like wind, through the hot summer Wuhan. I have joined several talks and media interviews about it. Confused, about what is going on.

People are shrilled to see the glorious and shining future, as indicated by its plan, yet no one knows what is going to happen. The place it is going to built locates in the north suburbs, filled by transportation lines, so that the land could be hard to use. But it is decided, and it is said to be built. Every new mayor wants something new, the ‘beginning’ of a new era, and the ‘beginning’ made by talking, reporting, and media bombing. The Chinese style of urban management.

For Wuhan, its slogan is ‘wuhan is different everyday’, it just wants something new, and dislikes the old ones. New City is also quite political right, as Beijing is also building a new city, Xiong’an, the new giant of urban China, not existed at all, but already becomes the pioneer and ‘model’ of other cities, such as Tianjin’s Seaside New City, as put by the leader there. Of course, Wuhan wants to follow Beijing, and it must follow.

Yet Wuhan already had so many new cities, nine ‘subway-related small towns’ in the suburbs, one China-France Ecological City in Caidian District, so on and so force. New City is everywhere, in Wuhan. But for leaders, the more the better. Cause the city has to sell lands to earn, playing ‘land finance’, and maintaining its high speed infrastructure constructions. Expansion is the theme of the city today. Leaders compete against each others, to expand land use. It is the same for the schools, subjects and individuals in universities. You have to expand and maintain the growth, otherwise you will lose. Urban China, indeed, is a growth machine, different everyday. Why? because we care. We care about the history of underdeveloped, we care about starving, and we care about the future, as there may be nothing to earn, eat, or stay alive. In the deep heart of Chinese, there is a deep fear of losing games.

But life and existence is by no means a game. It is a process, a marathon. The urban needs time, wait, and patience to move forward. When we get ill, we can feel the truth of life, and start to feel and enjoy it. For cities, it is the same. One day, we will regret for our anxiety, impatience, and restless. There are so many high-rise and concrete buildings, so hard to fix, demolish, and rebuild. We are so selfish – though we care so much about our kids, we send them to training, to learning, to exercising, every weekends, yet what we leave to them is a mess of ugly buildings, constructions and bubbled financial systems.