Shanghai, the most populous metropolis of China with around 16.5 million inhabitants in 2007, is also China’s largest economic centre. The municipality is under the direct control of central government with a province-like status. Located on the coast, Shanghai, historically, participated in the opening of China in the 19th century. The city, divided in three sectors –the International Settlement, the French Concession and the Chinese city- became an important financial centre prior to the breakout of WW2. After losing its influence during Mao’s area, Shanghai regained its national urban and economic leadership following the adoption of the Open Door policy. Today, Shanghai, is the world’s busiest seaport and a major centre for international trade.  Although it enjoys the highest GDP per capita in China, the municipality of Shanghai faces several challenges such as an ageing population and residents who wish to live in a more sustainable and user-friendly city.



Formerly part of Sichuan province, the Chongqing municipality has been under central government control since 1997. The administrative area of the city, as large as Austria, incorporates an extensive rural area and several freestanding urban centres with a total population of 30 million, of whom 5 million reside in the metropolitan area of Chongqing. The city has attracted thousands of rural migrants and has accommodated ressettlers from the Three Gorges dam area. It is home to the largest inland port in China (on the Yangtze River) and has a high industrial capacity, especially in motor vehicle production.  Chongqing is a leading centre for the policy implementation of developing the country’s Western regions and a number of large-scale economic projects have located in the municipality. Consequently, the city has experienced rapid urbanisation and has suffered from pollution.


Kunming is the capital of Yunnan province in South-West China. The metropolitan area has a population of around 3.2 million inhabitants, many of them belonging to ethnic minorities.  Several autonomous counties have been established within Kunming. It also is a centre for regional trade, acts as a connecting point with China’s southern neighbours, and is member of various regional initiatives such as Yunnan’s inclusion into the Greater Mekong Sub-Region since 1992. Kunming’s main industries are mineral dressing, food processing and light. As a historical backwater and because of its distance from other parts of China, Yunnan province enjoys a relatively well-preserved environment. ‘Green’ industries have been promoted in the region and sustainable development projects, such as the construction of an eco-town, have been implemented in Kunming.




Huangshan city is a prefecture-level city in Anhui province, central China. Huangshan is a medium sized city, with a population of 350,000 inhabitants, it is the smallest of the four case-study cities. However, the local attraction Mount Huang (Huangshan) which is one of China’s major touristic locations (it is a UNESCO World Heritage site) attracts more than 2 million visitors annually. Despite the local government promoting the development of new industries, the economy of Huangshan relies heavily upon tourism. A pressing need is for a new urban infrastructure that will enable effective preservation of the endangered local ecosystem.