Asia’s largest garbage dump once smoldered with trash fires and belched so much methane across Wuhan that nearby residents could not open their windows. Now, the reclaimed trash heap is a green oasis so verdant it has become a popular wedding venue; and the Chinese city of 11 million hosted an international garden expo on the site.
That remarkable transformation was honored on Friday alongside four other cities in a gala ceremony at the fourth edition of the Guangzhou International Award for Urban Innovation.
“Wuhan’s project gives us all hope for the future,” said Celia Wade-Brown, former mayor of Wellington, New Zealand, who chaired the seven-member jury. “They’ve taken a toxic urban environment and turned it into a flagship park.”
Wuhan’s $690-million restoration of the Jinkou landfill and adjacent Zhanggong Dyke improved air and water quality for 400,000 residents. On a smaller scale, Mezitli, Turkey, population 250,000, received an award for establishing nine markets reserved for 612 women who sell citrus, tomatoes, dried fruits, homemade jams, pastas, spices, and sweets typical of the Mediterranean city, but who have trouble getting a foot in the door in male-dominated traditional markets.
“Our choices included a diversity of issues, geography, and scale,” Wade-Brown said. “All municipalities, whatever their size, can make a demonstrable difference in the lives of their citizens.”
The Guangzhou Award was established in 2012 to encourage global cities to learn from each other and collaborate directly to solve problems. The City of Guangzhou works with United Cities and Local Governments, an international network of cities, and Metropolis, the world association of major metropolises, to identify the most innovative practices taking place in city halls around the world.
“The 15 cities presented for this year’s Guangzhou Award are positive stories of hope that show we can begin to solve the major challenges facing humanity in an increasingly urbanizing world,” said Nicholas You, Executive Director of the Guangzhou Institute for Urban Innovation.
The Guangzhou Awards also emphasize how municipalities can adapt global agendas such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and New Urban Agenda for sustainable cities to the work of local government.
New York City took the prize for Global Vision, Urban Action, an adapted sustainability plan that maps the city’s OneNYC Plan onto the goals and targets of the SDGs. In July, New York became the first city in the world to submit a report to the United Nations on its progress thus far toward the global goals.
The planning process was also at the center of Guadalajara’s winning entry, which was given to the Metropolitan Planning Institute. One of Latin America’s only cities thinking at the metropolitan level, the institute coordinates land use planning for a nine-municipality region of 5 million centered around Mexico’s second-largest city. To produce its latest metropolitan plan, the institute engaged in a four-month public outreach effort called Ruta 2042 that solicited input from more than 3,000 people.
Finally, Milan built on the legacy of the food-focused World Expo it hosted in 2015 and adopted an innovative urban food policy that addresses the entire food chain from farm to table to scraps. The policy bolsters nearby agricultural producers by, for example, mandating that school canteens source ingredients locally and rebating restaurants’ food waste tax by 20% if they donate excess to charity.
Each winning city won $20,000. The winners were selected from 15 shortlisted cities. The other cities in contention for the award were eThekwini (Durban), South Africa; Kazan, Russia; Repentigny, Canada; Salvador, Brazil; Santa Ana, Cosa Rica; Santa Fe, Argentina; Surabaya, Indonesia; Sydney, Australia; Utrecht, Netherlands, and Yiwu, China.