2015 Student-Faculty Fellows Program: St. Olaf College
A Tale of Two Eco-Cities:
Environmental Awareness and Sustainable Urban Development
in Tianjin and Qingdao, China
Mentor: Ka Wong, Department of Asian Studies
Students: Jacob Caswell’17, Nathalie Kenny’16, Cameron Rylander’16
This ethnographic project explores the perception, practice, and prospect of environmental protection and sustainable urban development through a comparative study of the Sino-Singaporean Tianjin Eco-City (SSTEC) from both Chinese and Singaporean perspectives. Faced with the challenges of soaring energy consumption and pressing environmental concerns, China is at the forefront of the newest and most innovative initiatives to tackle the pressure of rapid population growth and urbanization. Since the turn of the millennium, in cooperation with business and technology partners, the Chinese leadership has launched various “Eco-City” projects to create livable, green, and self-sustainable urban centers. The most notable example is the SSTEC. It is, hence, of great academic and social-cultural importance to examine the various issues and actors driving its success and future development. To gain a more comprehensive understanding of the critical issues at stake, the research team visited Tianjin, Shanghai, Suzhou, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Each with their own scholarly backgrounds and interests, Jacob Caswell, Nathalie Kenny, and Cameron Rylander concentrated on three distinct aspects of the Eco-City project: technology and urban planning, business and international cooperation, and community and social relationships, respectively. From these three anchor points, they investigated the “Eco” concepts and planning behind SSTEC, how an Eco-City project can maximize positive results, what obstacles exist, and how challenges can be overcome. By understanding the inner workings of such an important government-to-government project between two of the most influential Asian nations, our project hopes to shed light on this innovative chapter in environmental protection and sustainable urban development, which has not only made an impact in Asia but also served as an inspiration for us in America.
Before being accepted as a fellow in the ASIANetwork Student-Faculty Fellowship, I could only define environmentalism within the field of academia. While I hoped to incorporate environmentalism into my future career in some capacity, I hardly knew what the term meant outside of a collegiate setting. The opportunity to travel to China and Singapore to conduct a study on the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City fundamentally changed that. Through my research, I witnessed the process of bringing environmentalism theory into practice on a global scale. Through intensive interviews with government officials, professors, architects, scientists, engineers, and corporate executives in Singapore and China, I was able to see environmentalism not simply as an academic subject, but as an interdisciplinary and international effort that required private, public, political, and academic collaboration to build a sustainable future. In this way, the greatest outcome of participating in this fellowship for me was witnessing environmentalism at work in a global context. I am confident that, regardless of my career path, I can dedicate my work to help foster a greener future both inside the United States and the world beyond.
As of our return to the United States this summer, our project team has completed extensive background readings regarding the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City (SSTEC), developed our study’s focus, and conducted intensive interviews with professors, graduate students, government officials, architects, scientists, engineers, and corporate executives that have worked with SSTEC from both China and Singapore. To achieve this, we travelled to Shanghai, Suzhou, Tianjin, Hong Kong, and Singapore to provide a comprehensive report and comparative study that highlights the SSTEC’s three proposed harmonies: harmony with man, the economy, and the environment. The only remaining data left to collect is from phone interviews with the Eco-City Administrative Committee and the Suzhou Industrial Park Administrative Committee later this fall. Following these interviews, we will have sufficient information to bring our report to completion.
My experience in interacting with local people, government officials, students and business people in China and Singapore through this summer research project has enriched my understanding of what it means to live together harmoniously and responsibly in this world. From the complexity of government-to-government and public-private collaboration to the simplicity of a Chinese street vendor-US tourist interaction, I felt the success and the struggle of international interaction. Cross-cultural communication is not always straightforward, obvious, or easy. Apart from gaining knowledge in environmentalism and urban development through the Eco-City project, I also learned the importance of open-mindedness and understanding in building relationships. I can and will use these lessons in pursuing my future personal and professional business opportunities with China.
During our trip to China and Singapore, I explored the nature of government-to-government collaboration on an international scale as well as private-public collaboration in building the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City (SSTEC). I identified these collaborations as a promising indicator of the Eco-City’s success because of the government’s guidance and the companies’ implementation. I looked further into how and why companies invest in sustainable development and found their ways of balancing environmental and social responsibility with economic gain. Along the way, I applied material from previous college classes to inform my analysis and enrich my understanding of the SSTEC’s creation.
Seeing five different cities between two countries has broadened my view of how a place can represent its community. I went to China hoping to gain a better understanding of what it meant for two nations to come together and build an Eco city. More specifically, I wanted to learn more about how environmental measures can be used to build a home for people to live in harmony with one another and their land. This is a difficult project, and it requires knowledge in multiple areas. Our hands-on experience showed us what it takes for people to live in a healthy and responsible community; it showed us some of the problems that are products of big city lifestyle, and some of the measures that can be taken to achieve environmental and human harmony. Because of this research experience, I had the opportunity to take my first glimpse into the future of environmental studies and urban development, which I plan to further explore.
My team spent August 2015 traveling between two different countries to see how international support can mutually bring about fiscal, environmental, and social harmony. We studied street life, analyzed public exhibits, and talked to citizens to understand what factors make Shanghai the place that it is. We saw the buildings and developments that make up the Tianjin Eco-city, as it stands only halfway through its mission. We organized and conducted informational interviews in conjunction with various branches of the Singaporean government, to whom we are greatly indebted and very grateful. I have helped to collect all of this information successfully. I am looking forward to completing the research paper.