Growing pollution problem in China focus of UK symposium

By Will Aaron

When Casey Ryan Mather traveled to China in 2005, his first impression wasn’t of the beautiful cities or lush countryside — it was the growing pollution problem.

“The air had a flavor. (It was) disgusting,” said Mather, an architecture graduate student who joined architecture professor Richard Levine and more than 70 other researchers from Austria, China and the United States on the last year of a four-year research project.

The group studied sustainability in seven Chinese villages. Their findings will be the subject of a two-day symposium that starts today at 10 a.m. in the Student Center.

“China is moving to become the great factory of the world,” Levine said. “As new industrial cities are created, thousands of farming villages will disappear.”

Sustainability, or the process or state that can be maintained at a certain level indefinitely, is most prevalent in these disappearing rural villages because the way of life of the residents has been consistent over hundreds of years and the environment and agriculture styles haven’t varied, Levine said.

These sustainable traits are what researchers like Levine and his colleagues are interested in preserving and applying to other areas. Because of the migration in China of people from rural areas to larger cities, environmental sustainability is at risk.

As China grows, the young people living in these rural villages are leaving by the hundreds of thousands for the large metropolitan cities that offer industrial jobs, Levine said.

“There has never been such a mass migration in history,” he said.

Mather, now a design and research associate for the UK Center for Sustainable Cities Design Studio, said estimates of the number of people migrating to larger cities in China range from 200 million to 400 million people.

“At these numbers, it’s like the U.S. population getting up and moving,” Mather said.

Sustainability is an issue that the entire world is facing. The lack of renewable energy resources and dependency on fossil fuels will eventually affect everyone’s daily life, Levine said.

“The consequences are horrific,” Levine said. “There are no sustainable cities on the planet. If things do not change in the next 10 years in our way of thinking and acting, many cities will collapse and wither.

“That is an issue facing today and tomorrow’s generations.”

The study, “Sustainable User Concepts for China Engaging Scientific Scenarios,” was under the direction of Heidi Dumreicher, director of the Oikodrom, or the Vienna Institute for Urban Sustainability.

The symposium will include discussions with Dumreicher, Levine and UK Professor Ernie Yanarella. The symposium also includes the documentary, “Every Seventh Person” at 7 p.m. in the Worsham Theater, with a reception to follow.

The two-day event will begin today at 10 a.m. in room 230 of the Student Center. The event is free and open to the public. More information is available from the event Web site (