The2023 International Conference on Green and Innovation-Driven Urban Development

Following the successful first conference last year, this year’s 2023 International Conference on Green and Innovation-driven Development in Cities and Towns was hosted in Suzhou with proceedings held at the recently opened Suzhou International Conference Hotel. The lead host of the conference was the Foreign Affairs Office of the Jiangsu Provincial People’s Government, and the main organiser was the Xiangcheng District People’s Government of Suzhou City. Suzhou is a major city in east China, founded in 514 BCE and is now the most populous city in Jiangsu Province, with a population of roughly 7.5 million in the city and 14 million in the administrative area.

International guests at Higer Bus Company

The conference theme was “Jointly creating a new platform for a new ecology for shared new benefits” which develops on President Xi Jinping’s statements on eco-civilization as embodied in the Chinese Constitution: “The construction of ecological civilization is a millennial plan for the sustainable development of the Chinese nation” of which the “two mountains theory”, i.e., “Green waters and green mountains are [as valuable as] mountains of gold and silver” (Lǜ shuǐ qīngshān
jiùshì jīnshān yín shān) also applies. With the world facing ever-increasing human-caused global warming that causes more extreme weather such an approach is necessary for both raising the income and wealth of people, as well as protecting and enhancing the welfare of all life on our shared planet.

Over 350 attendees were at the conference including Local and international dignitaries, academics, engineers, and scientists. International guests were from Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Portugal, Italy, New Zealand, and Australia. Following a welcoming banquet by Xiangcheng’s District People’s Government,
the formal proceedings included the opening ceremony followed by parallel sessions on towns with distinctive features, integrated development on urban and rural areas, and heritage protection with sustainable development. My own attendance was to the latter, which included a number of international and local speakers and case studies with examples from Italy, Portugal, the Netherlands, and Suzhou itself. There was, of course, an extensive comparison between Suzhou and Venice as two cities with extensive historical canals and other waterways.

The majority of the conference proceeding however was spent on visits to Suzhou, combining the two vectors of heritage conservation and environmental technologies. From the former, this included visits to the Imperial Kiln Bricks Museum, the Silk Museum, Embroidery Art Museum, the especially beautiful
Taihu Lake Wetland Park, and the UNESCO World Heritage site, the Humble Administrator’s Garden. For the latter, this included the Suzhou City Industrial Park Exhibition Centre, the Higer Bus Company, the High-Tech Zone Exhibition Hall, the Urban Planning Exhibition Hall (with its strong connections to Singapore), the High-Tech Rail Tram Limited, and the new local campus of Nanjing University, China’s most famous university.

The two vectors give credence to both the “two mountains theory” but also illustrate the genuine and successful attempt of Suzhou city and the region to integrate both heritage conservation, environmental protection, and technological development. It is difficult enough to achieve the former two, but when coupled with the latter great care and intelligence is required. The
development shown by Suzhou city illustrates the superficial contradiction between the “two mountains” can be resolved. One cannot help but be impressed by the dedication shown in the development of ICVs (Intelligent Connected Vehicles) and electric vehicles. The sheer quantity of electric cars
on the road is already apparent, and the numbers indicate that soon electric vehicles will make up the majority of new car sales in China, and the rest of the world will follow.

For international guests it must be mentioned with great appreciation that the hospitality shown by Foreign Affairs Office of the Jiangsu Provincial People’s Government was absolutely second to none. We were given a vision of a city that is prosperous, populous, harmonious, green, high-tech, planned, and showed a great sensitivity and appreciation of its history and culture. There is sensitivity to the fact that this was a relatively well-off city within China, and the city was very keen to promote itself on a local level in preference to discussing more regional, national, or even global environmental challenges. A desire was expressed by many to have greater detail and even an extra day in the proceedings that would discuss at a lower level various environmental and technological challenges. This is, of course, less of a criticism and more of a desire that attendees wanted the conference to be even longer and deeper.

If I may be so bold to finish on a personal note, often in the afternoons and evenings after the day’s proceedings I would take a walk around the lake and its environs that the hotel faced. Whilst there was the vista of the city with its gleaming towers of steel and glass, I would find myself among the foliage and fauna of the lakeside in a peaceful and contemplative setting. It was in this place that I could not help but be absolutely charmed by a solar-powered intelligent robot boat that would make its way over the lake, cleaning whatever rubbish it could find of which, of course, there was very little. What a different and beautiful world it would be, I thought to myself, it would be if such robots were everywhere. This is the vision of the future that is offered to us: “green and innovation-driven development in cities and towns”. It would do us all well, to look at this example.

Robot lake cleaner

Published in the Australia-China Friendship Society Victorian Branch Newsletter, November 2023

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Presentation at the Annual General Meeting of the ACFS (Victorian branch) available here: