Humphrey School News—March 2, 2016

Humphrey Students Travel to China and India to Study Sustainable Cities

Sixteen students from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs traveled to major cities in China and India in January to explore the latest strategies to supply clean water, limit air pollution, and manage waste. The students, led by Professors Anu Ramaswami and Jerry Zhao, spent three weeks comparing urban sustainability strategies and investigating the role of infrastructure in sustainable cities. The students looked at the sectors of energy, transportation, industrial development, and water and waste management.

This trip was a component of Prof. Ramaswami’s Partnership for International Research and Education (PIRE), a project funded by the National Science Foundation. PIRE’s international and interdisciplinary curriculum connects a study tour with research and outreach, and allows for deep engagement with nonprofit government organizations and policymakers from the U.S., China, and India.

Humphrey students from the Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy (STEP), Urban and Regional Planning, and Public Policy programs were joined by students from Georgia Tech and Yale University, as well as students and researchers from the Indian Institute of TechnologyChinese Academy of Sciences, and Tsinghua University.

Gaining valuable insight into pressing issues

In India, Humphrey alumni Mamta Verma and Sanjeev Kumar connected the group with senior government officials, who gave the students valuable insights into the issues that Indian cities are facing.

“We learned important lessons about how governments can bring about changes to the lives of people by providing good quality infrastructure in a timely manner,” said Rahul Sharma, a STEP PhD student at the University of Minnesota. “I am hoping to use the inputs we received from researchers and policymakers on smart cities and solid waste management practices in India for my further research.”

Supplying fresh water is a challenge for cities in arid areas such as Delhi or Ahmedabad, where water is extracted from sources more than 300 miles away. Students visited wastewater treatment plants serving neighborhoods, as well as small, decentralized systems that treat sewage and provide “grey water” back to the community.

Large parts of China face water scarcity as well, often aggravated by water use by coal power plants. The group visited Tongji University,where research is being done on this topic.

The students also experienced first-hand the city transportation systems in both India and China, ranging from auto-rickshaws to Bus Rapid Transit to the new metro systems of Delhi and Shanghai. While the group was in New Delhi, the city implemented an “odd-even” car policy pilot aimed at restricting the number of cars on the Indian capital’s roads to limit air pollution and congestion. While students reported it was noticeably calmer on the streets, pollution still stung eyes and intensified the city’s fog.

In both countries, public transportation is seen as an important answer to air pollution issues. Both Delhi and Shanghai have invested heavily in metro systems in the last 25 years, and while this mode of transport is comfortable for travelers, students questioned whether this infrastructure benefits all layers of society.

Disposal and treatment of waste was another topic of study. The group saw examples of how India is experimenting with diverse models for waste management that includes utilizing the knowledge of people who make their living recycling trash. In China, the students visited the Suzhou Qingjie factory, where food waste collected from restaurants is processed to create biodiesel, biodegradable plastics, and insect protein. 

The trip concluded with a workshop in New Delhi, co-organized by the University of Minnesota and ICLEI-South Asia to reflect on the similarities and differences in creating sustainable cities in the U.S., China and India. As one participant from the Chinese Academy of Sciences commented, “The workshop motivated me to come up with research questions, and informed me of where we are now and how far we still need to go to build healthy, sustainable, and livable cities across countries.”

Learn more about the workshop and those in attendance.  

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