Li Yifei looked proud when he talked about his home city, Yiwu, during his trip to the University of Chicago last month. A booming city of 1.4 million people in China’s southeastern province of Zhejiang, Yiwu produces more than 60 percent of the world’s holiday decorations. It also serves as the starting point for the largest railroad in the world, the Yiwu-Madrid line, also known as the “New Silk Road.”
While economic growth has always been his city’s top priority, Li, the municipal Party secretary of Yiwu, came to the University of Chicago on a different mission. He led a delegation of 22 municipal leaders from Zhejiang province to attend a crash course on sustainable development.
“We’re here with the humble heart and strong curiosity of a student to study the latest thinking on urban sustainability and the successful experiences in U.S. cities,” said Li at a welcome reception.
The Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies hosted the training session. The annual program, jointly run by the Paulson Institute and the China Association of Mayors, covers a wide range of issues related to sustainability, from organic urban renewal and public transportation to municipal financing models for environmental projects and the protection of cultural heritage.
“This is part of our efforts to broaden UChicago’s global outreach and impact,” said Mark Nemec, dean of the Graham School. “Through such programs, we seek to deliver a unique experience with the city of Chicago and other locations woven into supplemental learning opportunities and to enhance the delegation’s capacity for leadership on important issues as they return home.”
Zhejiang province, home to 55 million people, is the country’s fourth largest economy and the third largest exporter. Its economic boom over the past three decades has led to rapid urban expansion. While urbanization allowed millions of farmers to live in Yiwu and other boomtowns that have prospered from its flourishing private enterprises, experts say it is now facing numerous environmental and health challenges, such as air and water pollution, and a drop in biodiversity…