The first USF-led Global Urban Debates event (GUD) was held at Shanghai Jiao Tong University on May 29th 2019. The theme of GUD Shanghai was focused on the “Future of Urban Studies: The China Perspective”, and stimulated in-depth discussions on the future trends of urban studies from the China perspective. This included topics that covered what urban studies has achieved in China; locating the main research gaps and identifying key research questions that would emerge in the next few decades; and to discuss how current research approaches should be adjusted to meet the needs of these emerging issues. The two moderators opened discussions on these topics in turn, by asking each panelist a number of questions according to the panelist’ research background and experience in urban China research. Whenever there were different opinions from the panelists on the same question, debates were kicked-off!
GUD Shanghai was organized and moderated by Professor Jie Chen, who is jointly appointed at School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) & China Institute for Urban Governance (CIUG) of SJTU; and has been a Trustee of the USF since 2016. The debate was co-moderated by Professor Fulong Wu, who is Bartlett Professor at the Bartlett School of Planning of University College London (UCL) and a fellow of the Academy of Social Science. Professor Wu also served as a Trustee of the USF between 2010 and 2017.
Seven distinguished urban scholars from United Kingdom, United States and China attended as panelists at GUD Shanghai, including Professor Nick Gallent (Head of the Bartlett School of Planning, UCL; a fellow of Academy of Social Science, United Kingdom), Professor Mark Partridge (Swank Chair in Rural-Urban Policy, The Ohio State University; President of Regional Science Association International), Professor Shenjing He (Department of Urban Planning and Design, University of Hong Kong; China Editor of Urban Studies Journal), Associate Professor Xiaoling Zhang (Department of Public Policy, City University of Hong Kong), Dr. Zhi Liu (Director of Peking University-Lincoln Land Institute of Urban Development and Land Policy), Professor Jiannan Wu (Deputy Director of CIUG & University Distinguished Professor at SIPA, SJTU) and Professor Ming Lu (Executive Director of Shanghai Institute for National Economy & University Distinguished Professor at Antai School of Economics and Management, SJTU).
The first-round debate between panelists focused on whether there is a need to develop a China-specific urban theory. This included questions like how to balance the generality and locally-specific characteristics of urban research; to what degree there is a need of place-specific urban research; what are the unique characteristics of urban research in China; and whether there is a need and a possibility to develop China models of urban development theory. Some panelists argued that despite urban research in China having been very fruitful in accumulating empirical evidence, and very helpful in deepening understanding of urban development in China, that it has not produced many new theoretical breakthroughs or frameworks. Some panelists even expressed opinions that, although the massive urbanization and development in China is an extraordinarily spectacular phenomena in human history, it may not necessarily produce new models of urban theory born from the Chinese urban experience.
However, some panelists held different beliefs. For example, Professor Jinnan Wu at CIUG of SJTU argued that China’s urban governance practices are very different from what have been observed in the western countries, or any other countries, and thus he anticipated that, at least in the urban governance field, Chinese scholars would advance some innovative contributions of theory building-up.
Panelists also debated the role of urban research to urban practices, as well as the future trends of urban research in China and in the world. For example, how urban research in China has contributed to urban development practices in China; how the paradigm of urban research in China has been transformed in the last two decades; what are the major future trends of urban research worldwide and in China that already emerge in the vision; and how the paradigm of urban research would be reshaped by new methodology and technology, such as the internet, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and big data. The panelists were also asked to give advice on what kind of research questions young urban scholars should choose and embark on. All these discussions were very vivid throughout, and several audience members also joined the debate and expressed their opinions on these issues.
More than fifty participants attended the GUD Shanghai event. Most are scholars and graduate students from universities globally and domestically, including Cambridge University, UCL, King’s College London, University of New South Wales, Fudan University, Nanjing University, Tong Ji University, East China Normal University, East China of Science and Technology, Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, Hunan University, Zhongnan University of Economics and Law, Nanjing Agricultural University, Nanjing Audit University. Research experts at research institutions such as GaWc Shanghai research centre, industry experts from companies such as Tahoe Group and Tong Ji Architecture Design Institute, and newspaper reporters from media such as Wenhui Bao also joined the event.