Experts from China and the United States met in Beijing on Oct. 20 to discuss the need for a systems-based, coordinated response to the world's food, energy, and water (FEW) challenges. Engineers, urban planners, and policymakers shared their perspectives at the conference and workshop, "Sustainable Megacities: Food, Energy, Water, and the Built Environment," co-hosted by New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) and Peking University (PKU).
"Megacities" house more than 10 million inhabitants and form a critical area of research into the world's FEW nexus. As the pace of urbanization increases, cities tend to use more than their share of resources. One consequence is the earth's freshwater reserves are in decline, while demand for energy and food is up. NYIT and its partners are poised to help cities address these issues.
"Universities do the research and development that helps to solve problems," said NYIT President Edward Guiliano, Ph.D., who opened the conference. "We can say that cities made universities possible, and universities return the favor. We make cities livable."
Chunmiao Zheng, director of PKU's Institute of Water Sciences and dean of the School of Environment at South University of Science and Technology, welcomed guests on behalf of PKU.
The day's panels emphasized maintaining an efficient FEW balance by integrating information about the costs, needs, and availability of resources into management practices and policies. Streamlining starts with recognizing new ecological constraints and includes planning for resiliency and strategic data collection and analysis.
Jennifer L. Turner, director of the China Environment Forum at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, discussed China's "water-energy choke points." She focused on coal's large environmental footprint and related growing energy needs to clean, desalinate, and transfer water. The United States has similar water-energy choke points, and Turner highlighted emerging policy, research, and civil-society collaborations that address them.
Keith Schneider of Circle of Blue's Global Choke Point project described what he calls the current age of "depleted resources, growing populations, and climate disruptions." He showed how 21st-century conditions contribute to a greater threat of natural disasters and to widespread community resistance to "big dams, big power plants," and other big projects.
In addition, a panel on finding solutions for the future challenges of global urbanization and megacities was chaired by Jeffrey Raven, director of NYIT's Master of Architecture in Urban and Regional Design. Raven is an expert on sustainable and resilient urban design and planning. He recommended a systems-based framework for supporting FEW resources.
"Confronting global food, energy, and water challenges in megacities will require configuring efficient neighborhoods, protecting farmland and open space, building low-energy affordable housing, and providing efficient transportation choices," Raven said.
Panelist Zhen Zhong of Xiamen University responded to Raven's insights by proposing strategies to mesh "blue-green infrastructure" into China's dense urban context, while other panelists addressed transportation and ways to reduce urban energy footprints.
"Smart cities" will use information technology to monitor and adjust traffic flows, indoor temperatures, and other factors to improve the use of resources. NYIT Professor Babak Beheshti, Ph.D., led a panel on sharing methods to gather and analyze accurate data via intelligent infrastructure systems. His discussion—along with the day's other panels and sessions—sparked lively conversations on meeting the goals of NYIT and PKU's EcoPartnership.
NYIT and PKU joined in an EcoPartnership co-sponsored by their respective U.S. and Chinese governments in 2013. The EcoPartners' charge is to cultivate research cooperation on technologies to protect groundwater.
Funding for the "Sustainable Megacities: Food, Energy, Water, and the Built Environment" conference and workshop was provided by the U.S. National Science Foundation and the National Natural Science Foundation of China, with additional support from co-sponsors:
- American Institute for Chemical Engineers
- Xiamen Zhonglian Environment Engineering Company, Ltd.
- HDR, Inc.
- Institute for Sustainability
- International School of Software, Wuhan University
- International Society for Water Solutions
- South University of Science and Technology of China
- Wuhan University