Prof. Changchun Feng is Boya Professor at Peking University, Professor at the School of Urban and Environmental Studies, the Vice President of the Capital Development Institute, the Director of the Future Cities Laboratory, the Director of the Key Laboratory for Territorial Spatial Planning and Development and Conservation of the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Head of the Territorial Planning and Development Innovation Team of the Ministry of Natural Resources, as well as a member of the Urbanization Expert Committee of the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development.

Prof. Changchun Feng has long been engaged in teaching, research, and planning practices in the fields of urbanization, urban and regional planning, land economy and real estate development, infrastructure planning and construction, and village and township construction planning. He has undertaken many major projects such as the National Science and Technology Support Program “Spatial Planning and Land Use of Villages and Towns”. As the chief scientist, he was awarded the Outstanding Contribution Award of the National Science and Technology Program, and has chaired many key and surface projects such as the National Natural Science Foundation of China “Fundamental Research on Resources and Environment of Urbanization”, and won more than 30 national and provincial science and technology awards and 6 patents. He has published more than 200 academic papers in academic journals at home and abroad and edited and participated in 18 books and textbooks. In addition, he has also led and participated urban and rural, and regional planning projects different levels, and completed the plans for urbanization and urban development strategies, urban systems, land use, overall urban and rural development in numerous cities and regions.


1.The climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic have laid bare the importance of coordination between localities in a region. This is particular the case during the pandemic, when restrictions on the mobility of people, goods, and information have greatly hampered regional development and growth. What do you think are the main difficulties in ensuring mobility under such circumstances? How can big data analysis better facilitate collaboration in a region?

Mobility in a region has a close association with economic development, cost of living, job creation, and household income. In China, coastal cities and developed regions are more attractive, and the impact of the epidemic has been greatly reduced since the end of 2022. The allocation and mobilities of key production factors such as labour, capital, land, and information require effective coordination between localities, which not only requires the role of the market but is also institutional infrastructure. We have set up Future Cities Research Centres and laboratories in Beijing and Shenzhen to examine the development of city clusters in Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei, Yangtze River Delta, and Pearl River Delta, and we conducted research in terms of transportation, environment and industrial development. It can be seen that the results achieved so far by the coordinated development of Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei are mainly in the areas of environmental management, transport integration, and regular coordination mechanisms of a certain degree, but conflicts often arise when it comes to the interests of the regions themselves, For example, Zhangjiakou and Chengde in Hebei are designated as ecological reserves for protecting the ecological system of the Beijing metropolitan region, and the restriction has in one way or another slowdown economic development in these places. Therefore, in order to coordinate the rights and interests of all parties in the development of regional integration, it is still necessary to sort out a effective institutions and mechanisms for interest sharing.

Big data can help to understand development patterns and future trends of cities and regions, but there are still some challenges: (1) Most of the data is currently not publicly available and the issues of ownership relationships, reliability of data, and cost of access are yet to be resolved. In addition, with limited funding for research in universities, it is not clear how to establish a mechanism for data-sharing. Meanwhile, some web companies are currently seeking external collaboration, and we began collaborating with Baidu Search on several topics last year, with plans to publish research results regularly in the future. (2) Barriers still exist between data-providing departments, with some data often belonging to different departments, and cooperation also requires consultation and collaboration with multiple departments to resolve problems.

2.Regional collaboration often faces obstacles in implementation because of different local interests, responsibilities, or property rights. What in your opinion are the keys to solving these problems? Could you please give an example of a good experience for coordinated regional development?

The central government does attach great importance to the development of regional coordination, and some coordination mechanisms have been established, and transport links between cities are now becoming increasingly integrated. But implementation and management are still difficult to put in place, and a holistic regional coordination has still not been formed. I think that the solution to these problems needs to be considered from three perspectives:

Ⅰ. Organizational structure, laws and regulations are important safeguards for creating synergy and cooperation between localities. Coordinated development cannot be limited to the signing of cooperation agreements and regular collaboration mechanisms at the strategic level. It is essential to jointly study and formulate legislation and negotiate solutions to the conflicts between conservation and development from the perspective of territorial spatial planning.

Ⅱ. Coordination must focus on the sharing of interests and respective contributions of cooperation. The recent concept of ‘Cooperative District’ is a viable model of coordinated development, where one party contributes resources such as land and space, while the other provides capital, technology, management. This allows both sides to gain revenue from the investment while providing local employment opportunities and tax revenue. In addition, the introduction of enterprises and technologies that are localized and gradually spread to form industrial chains can further promote local development. The Suzhou Industrial Park was born out of Sino-Singaporean cooperation in the context of globalization, and Beijing and neighbouring cities are also exploring new paths of collaborative development in the form of cooperative parks.

Ⅲ. Development planning should take into account various aspects such as environment, economy, and industry, combining the upstream, midstream, and downstream of the whole region or watershed, and exploring new channels for collaborative economic development under the premise of collaborative environmental management. For example, although the requirement for collaborative environmental management has restricted polluting enterprises in Zhangjiakou, the Winter Olympics has brought new opportunities for the development of winter sport and tourism industry, and Zhangjiakou lacks the strength to invest in related industries, so it needs the support of Beijing in terms of capital, technology, and talent.

Among the city clusters, the Yangtze River Delta, the Pearl River Delta, and Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei are currently gaining momentum, but there is still room for improvement. The Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region has made remarkable achievements in integrating the development of transportation and environmental governance, which is driven by political forces. However, the overall promotion of measures should be preceded by anticipation and planning for possible problems and by systematic planning and design, it is necessary to avoid problem such as that the gas supply cannot keep up and the heating of rural residents cannot be guaranteed in winter, which is similar to the process of “replacing coal with gas”. While the development differences between the cities in the Yangtze River Delta are relatively small, and some studies have shown that the construction of the Shanghai Free Trade Zone has had a relatively small driving effect on the surrounding areas, and there is still a need to strengthen the establishment of a coordinated institutional mechanism in the future to enhance the driving and diffusion effect of the Shanghai Free Trade Zone on the surrounding areas. In the future, the Yangtze River Delta region should gradually promote coordinated development from two spatial levels: a metropolitan area and city cluster. Taking Suzhou as an example, it can first cooperate with Wuxi and Changzhou to form a metropolitan area, and then consider coordinated development from the perspective of a higher-level Yangtze River Delta city cluster.

From a planner’s perspective, it is important to take a holistic, systemic view of the functional pattern of an area in order to reduce the possible ecological damage caused by human activities and to reduce carbon emissions, while at the same time taking into account the “human” factors such as social inclusiveness.

3.Controls of carbon emission are often closely linked to the energy consumption, industrial development, transport planning, and urban construction. From the perspective of urban and regional planning, how can we achieve the goal of reducing emissions? What can we contribute as planners?

From the perspective of urban and regional planning, we generally work from the perspective of ecosystems, habitats, spatial structure, and human activities. Some studies are now analyzing and measuring cities and regions from the perspective of controlling carbon emission. Piao Shilong, for example, has calculated that in the 1980s China’s terrestrial ecosystems were able to offset around 30% of industrial carbon emissions, but as the rate of growth in carbon sinks was much slower than the rate of growth in carbon emissions, the proportion fell to around 7-15% after 2010. From a national perspective, Fang Jingyun has calculated that Yunnan Province is in a carbon-neutral and carbon-neutral state. In addition, some studies believe that Qinghai Province, as a huge carbon sink surplus, is actively carrying out ecological compensation carbon trading, exploring a new path for ecological compensation.

As planners, we need to study and delineate regional functional patterns from a systemic perspective to reduce ecological damage and carbon emissions from human activities, while, of course, taking into account human activities and sustainable economic development. The “three spaces and three lines”[1] currently defined in territorial spatial planning can reduce damage to ecosystems and the environment, but to achieve the goal of reducing emissions, the following three points need to be addressed: First, the spatial planning level of the country should focus on the use of production, living, and ecological complex functions. While increasing carbon sinks and carbon storage, it is also necessary to develop the economy appropriately. For example, in the mountains of the Qinling Mountains in Shanxi Province, China, as a protected area, forestry and fruit industries such as kiwifruit and apples can be developed at the same time, so that the production and ecological complex functions can be brought into play. Second, at the city level, attention should be paid to the improvement path of carbon sink capacity of urban green space. The development of many industries within the city brings many carbon emissions, but large wetlands and parks also have a large carbon sink and carbon storage function. How to enhance their carbon sink capacity in the future and achieve carbon neutrality through the application of energy-saving and emission-reduction technologies is the direction we need to work on. Third, at the level of specific planning, it should be based on the concept of green and sustainable development, and then made after a comprehensive analysis of the city’s functions, positioning, industrial structure, and industrial development. In this regard, the Xiongan New Area is an excellent example of a city that has become more low-carbon and resilient by introducing the concept of a “sponge city”, using permeable paving and depressed green areas to collect and absorb rainwater and infiltrate it into the soil.

Figure 1. Sponge City in Xiong’an New Area

Source: Provided by Prof. Feng

Figure 2. Urban green spaces with carbon storage and carbon sink functions

Source: Unsplash

4.From communities, cities to regions, we should practice “low carbon” and “zero carbon” at different scales to help realize the goal of “double carbon”. What issues do you think need to be considered in this regard? What are the future planning ideas?

We know that “zero carbon” construction is the way to move forward, but there are still challenges with the high costs involved. Despite the many subsidies given by the government, after all, financial resources are limited and there is a need to raise funds from multiple sources and involve multiple actors to develop action plans for building low-carbon communities. Considered at different scales, there are many different challenges to be faced:

Ⅰ. At the community level, high-cost low-carbon building retrofits are difficult to scale up, especially in rural areas. A design team from Xi’an University of Architecture and Technology carried out a low-carbon renovation of an old building in a rural area, mainly by replacing it with new materials that can insulate and keep heat in, modifying the roof, and partitioning the space. The cost of retrofitting is around RMB 1,000 per square meter, which is difficult for the average rural village to afford. We also visited rural Hunan to study the issue of sewage treatment and planned to build a simple sewage treatment pond in each house, and the local area suggested that the cost of retrofitting should not be higher than 3,000 yuan, otherwise it would be difficult to promote. Therefore, cost-effectiveness is a key factor affecting low-carbon development.

. At the urban level, the ecological effect should be valued while at the same time making all construction conform to the human scale. For example, a new urban area is being built as a “park city”, which is quite effective in terms of ecological enhancement and green development. The water system and greenery and landscape design are quite good, but due to the large open space and the division of the lake area, water system, and wetlands, the layout of the functional areas is not compact enough, and the excessive spatial scale makes it difficult for human activities without the support of public transport.

. At the regional level, the contraction of small and medium-sized cities has led to a large number of vacant houses and unused land. This not only results in a waste of resources but also increases carbon emissions at the same time, which is not conducive to the achievement of carbon reduction targets.

In the future, urban planning and construction should avoid the phenomenon of over-expansion of large cities and over-shrinking of small and medium-sized cities. Firstly, in terms of the division of the regional pattern, the idea of “point, circle, cluster, axis and belt”[2] that I proposed in 2000 can be adapted to link up towns and cities and establish a regional coordinated development pattern. Secondly, when planning the positioning and functions of a city, it is important to consider not only the internal city but also the convergence and balanced allocation of industries, infrastructure, and public services between cities from a macro perspective and at the level of territorial space and regional planning. Finally, it is still necessary to uphold the concept of green and low-carbon development, seek endogenous development momentum, promote low-carbon technology improvements, and explore sustainable development paths.

5.You have explained Nature-based Solutions (NBS) as “nature-inspired, nature-supported and nature-acted”, how does this philosophy fit into planning practice and grasp the principles of “nature” in “human” action?

Nature-based solutions emphasize a natural ecosystem and ecological perspective, meanwhile, it also takes a human core and takes into account human activities (including living and working) and social inclusiveness. At the community level, the ecological greening system can be combined with people’s fitness and exercise, and leisure activities to form an inclusive community, which also enhances its vitality and cohesion. At the city level, natural solutions can be used to increase the resilience of cities to cope with emergencies, such as the urban flood control and drainage problems. The “Fushou Ditch” drainage system in the old city of Ganzhou, Jiangxi, is a good example, where the designers built drainage ditches following the two seal characters of “Fu” and “Shou” and connected them to natural ponds in the city, creating a system that has both water storage and drainage functions. When the river level rises in summer during heavy rainfall, the natural difference in height of the terrain is used to store the rainwater in ponds close by so that the city does not flood. After the flood season, the river level drops and the pond level becomes higher than the river. As a result, the water pressure automatically flushes the gates open and the rainwater slowly flows out, making the city very resilient to flooding. Now most cities have adopted drainage systems based on rain and sewage diversion, so it is also possible to consider combining the rainwater drainage system with the natural ecological system to form some green spaces, known as the blue-green network system. On weekdays, it can be used as green landscapes, and for carbon sequestration and cooling and moisturizing, while on rainy days, it plays a multifunctional role in disaster prevention and reduction such as urban flood control and drainage.

Figure 3. A map of Fushou Ditch painted during the Tongzhi period of the Qing Dynasty

 Source: From Liu Fangyi, “Ganzhou City Urban and Rural Construction Annals”[3]

It is worth noting that current nature-based solutions tend to focus on small spaces, while in fact we should also think from the perspective of macro planning and integrate human activities and economic industries. Take the planning of a new district in Weifang, which I once presided over. Before the new district was established, the area was relatively underdeveloped, with a reservoir and some of its surrounding countryside zoned as part of an eco-economic development zone. Considering that the reservoir was a water source, and the principle of ‘protection first and development second’, we made an “ecological civilization construction plan”. Thinking holistically in terms of natural-cultural-social-economic systems, it proposes the strategic positioning, development direction, and spatial layout. That is, with the guiding ideology of people-oriented, water-sourced, green-based, culture-centred, industry-empowered, and city-cored, to develop four main functions including green and organic agriculture, culture and education, leisure and recreation, and food processing. The plan lays out five major spatial sectors: the wetlands surrounding the upstream perimeter of the reservoir; the development of green and organic agriculture based on the green ecological concept on the west side of the reservoir; the formation of a unique cultural tourism area on the east side of the reservoir using monuments such as Taoist culture in the area; the agricultural and food processing industries placed in the park downstream of the reservoir; and the construction of a new city downstream of the reservoir to develop education, recreation and health industries. The planning and implementation of these boards have been very effective and have achieved good environmental, social, and economic benefits, and a new spatial pattern of organic agriculture to the west, cultural tourism to the east, wetland parks upstream, and cities and industries downstream have been formed. This is an example of incorporating ecological and natural solutions into the planning of new urban areas, which can also be combined with relevant research on the green, low-carbon, and circular economy parks in the future.

Figure4. Xiashan Ecological Civilization Construction Demonstration Area in Weifang City

Source: Provided by Prof. Feng

From the perspective of urban resilience, the issue of capacity and density in urban regeneration is inappropriate in terms of both rough use and overdevelopment. Policies need to avoid a “one-size-fits-all” approach, deeply understand the sources and relationships between people, land, housing, and money, take into account local differences and adapt to local conditions.

6.Given land is a scarce resource, China attaches great importance to the economical and intensive use of land. Meanwhile, urban renewal is currently facing an important shift of priority from “demolition, renovation and retention” to “retention, renovation and demolition”. What’s your opinion about the impacts of high-density and high-intensity development on urban carrying capacity?

The economical and intensive use of land requires rational use of land resources, i.e. neither crude use nor over-development. At present, land use in megacities is relatively intensive, but there is often a waste of land resources in small cities and rural areas, and the per capita area of homestead land in some rural areas reaches over 400 square meters. In response to this imbalance in land use, our team has conducted a research on the policy of “linking people, land, and money”[4]. We proposed to build suitable areas of housing in the rural areas and gradually release the remaining rural land quotas to the cities. At the same time, to guarantee the quantity and quality of arable land through comprehensive land improvement, promoting intensive land use while also resolving the contradiction between the need for urban development and arable land protection.

Concerning the issue of capacity and density in urban regeneration, the central question behind the adjustment of floor area ratio (FAR) is a question of the distribution of interests among city managers, developers and residents. The old urban areas and urban villages of some large cities in the south often face the problems of high building density, high renewal and renovation costs, and high compensation for demolition and relocation. Hence the costs can be balanced by increasing the FAR, which is also welcomed by developers who want to achieve the highest possible plot ratio to obtain a higher economic return. However, this should not be blindly done as excessive plot ratio and density will also have a negative impact on the living environment.

Figure5. Before (left) and after (right) the regeneration of Shui Wei Village, Shenzhen

Source: [5]

Despite the relatively high density of urban buildings, there is a need to comply strictly with the standard requirements of daylight, ventilation, and climatic and environmental conditions. As residents increasingly seek for a better quality of life, developments with high building density may not attract buyers and may instead lead to limited sales. Therefore, under such circumstances, to solve the dilemma of limited reward of plot ratio for a single project in the future, we can consider to coordinate land resources within a larger area so as to maximize the land benefits of development while comprehensively taking into account the requirements of the environment, life, and other aspects.

Additionally, from the perspective of human living environment, urban regeneration should be carried out with people at its core. We can first assess the structure and safety of the existing building before making any decisions on renovation. For instance, some urban villages in Shenzhen and Guangzhou have a high number of stories of original buildings, high building demolition costs, but relatively new housing. Hence a micro-renewal model can be adopted to improve supporting facilities, improve residential environment and enhance the use functions and living quality. Some scholars also believe that urban villages can solve the housing problem of the immigrant population and it is more meaningful to upgrade the public facilities and improve the functions of the surrounding areas than to simply demolish them. However, there are also buildings that are really dangerous and surrounded by poor facilities and environments, which still need to be demolished and redeveloped to improve the intensity of land use. Therefore, there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to policy implementation. As the level of development varies across the country, and the built environment within the project area varies too, the choice of urban regeneration approach needs to be tailored to the local context.

7.How do you think social resources and capital participation should be fully leveraged in urban renewal to meet residents’ needs for high-quality living environment?

At present, due to the high compensation cost of urban renewal, demolition becomes more difficult, and the enthusiasm of developers to participate is also affected. Previously, Beijing adopted the practice of “Demolish one, build three, and relocate two”, which meant that one could build three square meters if demolish one square metre, but has to allocate two square meters to rehouse the original residents. As a result, although the plot ratio has been increased, many developers were reluctant to get involved. One possible solution currently available is the policy for shared housing ownership[6]. For example, if the project is partly financed by the government, its correspondingly proportional share of ownership also belongs to the government. Then the government can subsidize the land for the developer as such a share, and the price of shared ownership housing becomes relatively low. For example, if the developer originally priced it at RMB120,000/sqm, it can be priced at RMB80,000/sqm after its costs being reduced. This approach satisfies both consumers’ housing needs and the interests of development companies and helps to drive renewal forward.

From a policy-led perspective, the key issue in urban regeneration, whether led by state-owned enterprises or involving private enterprises, is the source of funding and financing channels. The original land development model was to expropriate rural land and turn it into state-owned land, when primary land development could be conducted after demolition and relocation. As the land premium is relatively high and can be used for resettlement, it is easy to balance the funds. The expropriated land can be mortgaged to banks and thus loans can be obtained to finance the primary development. After the development is completed, the land will be stored and then put on the market through listing, auction and bidding, and developers will bid for the land, which solves the financing for development through such a loop of activities. Subsequently, due to a policy change, the banks were no longer allowed to mortgage the land due to financial risks, so the capital chain was broken during the development process, and it becomes a main reason why urban regeneration has encountered financial difficulties. Therefore, it is important to have a continuity of policy and to establish a legal guarantee mechanism on how to obtain funding to promote renewal. In some countries such as Singapore, Australia, and the US, REITs (Real Estate Investment Trusts) are issued as a way of raising funds for urban regeneration, creating a cycle of funds by operating some long-term income-generating projects (e.g. hotels). China is now entering an era of coexistence of stock and increment, from the perspective of urban management, it is still necessary to clarify the relationship between different entities and market demands, and to analyze thoroughly the sources of people, land, housing, and finance before proceeding the urban renewal.

[1]The “three spaces” refer to three types of land space: urban space, agricultural space and ecological space. The “three lines” correspond to the urban development zones designated in urban space, agricultural space and ecological space respectively.

[2] “Point” refers to the central cities of different levels; “Circle” refers to the “circle” refers to metropolitan areas; “Cluster” refers to urban agglomerations, i.e. groups of towns and cities of different grades and types, formed in areas with a relatively developed economy and a high level of urbanisation; “Axis” refers mainly to railway, road, water and sea transport routes, which connect cities; “Belt” refers to the zone of industrial and town development along the transport axis, as well as the “Point” and “Group” of towns that are further developed to form a dense distribution of towns.

[3] 赣州市博物馆,赣州古城系列丨福寿沟(OL). (2022-12-04) [2023-04-24].

[4] This policy specifically refers to linking financial transfer payments with the citizenization of the migrant agricultural population, linking the increase of urban construction land with the number of rural migrant residents settling down, and linking infrastructure investment arrangements with the citizenization of the migrant agricultural population.

[5] DOFFICE.水围柠檬人才公寓[OL].(2017-12-15) [2023-04-24].

[6] Shared ownership housing refers to the policy of providing policy support by the government, organising construction units to build, selling at a price lower than the price level of commercial housing in the same location and of the same quality, and restricting the scope of use and the right to dispose of it, and implementing shared ownership between the government and the home buyers.

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