How to melt one’s brain in 12 easy hours – A day at the China International Urban Planning Conference

By Bryan • china, urban planning • 16 Jun 2009

Some topics of note:

  • Perceptions of Shanghai – Politics of Built Form (Foreign interpretation regarding the rise of Shanghai…from hybrid city to…hybrid city).
  • Urban Renewal Under Shenzhen’s Rapid Urbanization (a 30 year old modelcity undergoing urban renewal)
  • Revitalizing Genes and Curing the Body – The Regeneration Road of Nanshi District in Yining City in Xinjiang (interesting because I visited this place back in 2005).
  • The Globalization of Planning Education – One World or Not?
  • Trends of Urban Development in China
  • Development of Rural-Urban Transformation.  Based on Population Migration. (migrants are everything right now)
  • The Ideas and Practice of Sustainable Regeneration in Nanlouguxiang Land, Beijing.  (public participation results during hutong restoration in Beijing).

Tasty planning tidbits for the Urban Planning geek with some big names from the Chinese planning world (Wu Fulong and Zhang Tingwei among others).


Like most things in China (when one is an urban planning graduate student), no one knew I was coming…even though I had paid the fee and apparently had ‘confirmation’.

In the session timetable the space is listed as “discussion” and is allotted exactly ten simple minutes.  Ten minutes for friendly, easy-going dialogue between the speakers and (although a remote possibility) the greater audience regarding a the topic(s) discussed.

In reality, a Chinese conference “discussion” or “Q&A” period is a mind-numbing, stomach growling, head-banging, whisker growing experience spanning a time slot that is just about as long as the Tang Dynasty. 

Such “discussion” periods is obviously, not unique to Chinese conferences, it is just that they seem to take it too the next level of insignificance.  When I started in on this conference I was surprised at how many people would walk in and out of the presentations, especially during the discussion period.  At the time, I found such behaviour to be quite rude…now I think it is utter and pure genius. 

The final session I attended today was entitled Urban Regeneration and Community Development – a set of several pretty good presentations on urban renewal, urban regeneration (renovation of buildings) and the beginnings of community development in China.

Several of the scheduled presenters dropped out so their time was donated to discussion, which doesn’t appear to be necessarily a bad thing, after all, discussion is good, right?

I’m not sure if it was the translation or if this is just the way discussion is held at such conferences….but I lost my mind at around 6:15pm and had to leave because I just could not longer take the never-ending 20 minute monologues delivered by each party regarding…unfortunately, almost nothing of significance.  These guys just talked…and it was fluff.   It was “comments on your comments…and then you comment on my comment”…I just didn’t’ see hear the questions.

The Los Angeles Planning Commissioner, Michael Woo was mediating this discussion (in English) and even he looked like he was about ready to fall asleep.

At the risk of releasing my cultural bias…the foreign commenter’s at least asked somewhat direct questions and gave somewhat direct answers regarding their topics…the local presenters (for the most part) just blabbed.  I suppose it could be a face issue…not wishing to embarrass colleagues…I felt that many of the foreign speakers were really holding back some tough questions, especially in regards to public participation and cultural issues (there was a presentation about a redevelopment in Xinjiang).

Maybe I didn’t get it – although I did notice the regional rivalries poking out between the speakers from Shenzhen and Beijing.

…Hok Lin Leung is a planning god in China…a god…

…and I am the only foreign student there…

…and there are still two days of ‘discussion’ banter.

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13 Responses

  1. you know...

    haha…I enjoyed this post…I needed a laugh today – Thanks

    • I’m writing this from the conference right now. Today is very different, I suppose someone complained about the “lengthy” comments and the mediators are being seriously draconian about the time today!

  2. angela

    money well spent?
    hope it gets better~

  3. Sue Crosby

    sounds like one of my staff meetings:)

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