The Maryland-Asia Environmental Partnership and the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE) welcomed a 21-member delegation of planning and construction officials from China’s Anhui Province, Maryland’s Sister State. to Baltimore at the Maryland Dept. of Environment on Thursday November 17. The delegation was visiting the region as part of the University of Maryland training program through the Institute for Global Chinese Affairs. During the two weeks of training, the group met with municipal, county and regional planning authorities to be better understand best practices for urban planning. They also met with the University of Maryland’s Center for Smart Growth. They were keen to learn more about our experience with sustainable development in the urban setting. Currently only about 40% of China’s population lives in cities and it is estimated that another 350 million Chinese will become urban by 2025, raising China’s urban numbers to one billion people. China’s urban planners are busy working out schemes to accommodate all these people. They are building megacities at a phenomenal pace, on a scale the world has never seen before.
MD-AEP’s President and Founder Peter Gourlay and Dr. Robert Summers Secretary of MDE welcomed the delegation and provided some background on Maryland’s engagement of China on environmental issues. MD-AEP assembled a team of presenters to provide the delegation with insights on sustainable development and showcased the importance of integrating rural village planning to those efforts within the urban centers ensuring integration of natural resource management plans with the overall urban policies and planning. John Spears, president of the Sustainable Design Group and President and CEO of the International Center for Sustainable Development highlighted case studies where he has worked in China to demonstrate how rural problems directly affect urban living. He emphasized the importance of China’s rural communities to China’s urban growth. Because China’s cities are growing outward as well as upward, urbanization has also consumed some 45,000 square miles of productive farmland over the last 30 years.
Spears noted that China’s food production needs led to his work in villages throughout China on how to develop sustainable villages to improve quality of life and encourage food production. He discussed the importance of transferring the principles of sustainable village planning to ensure scalable plans which include better integrated systems to perform effectively as a village. He stressed that many of the current planning systems in China are not connected as conventional technology pollutes the land for growing, affects public health and extracts wealth from communities. “A key principle is to maximize resources like sun, water, biomass, land and the people in each village,” said Spears. He noted the importance of retaining a village’s natural resources and not exporting its resources which translates into exporting wealth from the community. One example he noted was a village named Guang Han where he helped to increase the economic welfare of the village by identifying the best return on investment for crops in that climate while also establishing a bioenergy plant to harvest resources from pig waste using biogas digesters. Biogas was used as generator for community’s electricity needs while the excess waste product was composted as organic fertilizer to grow crops. “We’ve proven the results of this process in Guang Han, and other villages in China, which multiplied the positive economic development three-fold over current systems,” he said.
David Feldman, Executive Director of Bethesda Green, a non-profit sustainability group in Maryland, provided an overview their community based education initiatives in Bethesda to the general population, business, and government as a possible model for China. Bethesda Green worked with the local Department of Environmental Protection and high schools to scale up effort in collecting E-Waste, resulting in more than 180,000 pounds of used electronic equipment, a 15-fold improvement on previous results. Bethesda Green’s outreach programs work with communities to set up recycling bins, they work with restaurants to collect grease and convert it to biodiesel fuel. They’ve mobilized thousands of residents, whether in recycling bottles and computers or educating others, is an important step toward creating a more sustainable community. Feldman also talked about the importance of its Green Business Incubator which helps seed the next generation of green entrepreneurs.” He noted that the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) invited Bethesda Green to their recent APEC meeting in Indonesia to provide insights on best practices in this area.
Tom Sprehe, Senior Vice President and David Locke Senior Associate and Practice Leader from KCI Technologies provided insights on how they have worked with the City of Baltimore and noted the comparison with China’s City of Tianjin and opportunities for sharing lessons learned. Both Tianjin and Baltimore share a common regional experience of being located closely to their nations’ capitals of Beijing and Washington D.C. They are both industrial port cities. In Baltimore’s case, Sprehe emphasized that the city is experiencing aging infrastructure strains while losing its population to the suburbs impacting the ability of the city to pay for upgrading its infrastructure. Sprehe highlighted KCI’s work with the city to help them manage their water infrastructure and discussed the impact of increasingly frequent water main breaks which can be disastrous for the city’s economy. KCI’s role has been to help the city to avoid such catastrophes, but managing water and sewers systems which may have been designed over 75 yrs ago will continue to be a challenge. KCI is playing a leading role in providing cutting edge technological approaches to cleaning up Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and showcasing innovative approaches for sustainable development in area watersheds impacting the Chesapeake Bay, a key economic driver for Maryland’s economy.
MD-AEP will continue to engage the Anhui delegation to share best practices, scalable sustainability approaches and develop partnerships in the region.