Thoughts on Stormwater and Brownfields in China – and a Heartfelt 谢谢 (Thank You)

Author: Ted Wall, PE Published: May 27, 2015

Upon returning from Beijing, where I attended the 2015 International Symposium on Urban Stormwater Management and Landscape Hydrology and met with numerous experts in the stormwater, landscape architecture, and brownfields arenas, I have come away with these observations:


First and foremost, there is a keen interest and an emerging, full-scale effort to manage stormwater, control flooding, and minimize damage. These efforts are the result of the Central Government’s Sponge City Initiative. Landscape architects, land use planners, and engineers are all involved in tackling the areas throughout the country that experience the most severe conditions. Subsequent rounds of investment and implementation are expected as the Sponge City Initiative continues.

These efforts are being conducted at the site, neighborhood, and watershed scales, and are based in part on a Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development of China technical guide that was issued in October 2014. This document provides guidance for building sponge cities using Low Impact Development techniques and other approaches to manage extreme stormwater challenges. Projects are broad ranging from individual rain gardens on university campuses to large water diversion and reservoir systems in which the stored water will be used for irrigation and other purposes.

Much of the emphasis recognizes the wisdom of ancient Chinese societies and their successes in water and stormwater management, and seeks to build on this experience using modern tools and techniques. In this way, stormwater is recognized as an asset and managed accordingly.

Stormwater quality appears to be a secondary issue at this point, but is receiving attention as well. Our expectation is that it will gain prominence as the Sponge City Initiative matures.IMG_0981


I had the honor of speaking with several national leaders in the environmental arena about brownfields and the future of environmental cleanup in China. My host, Hong Wu, and I talked at length with Xiaodi Zheng, Tsinghua University Assistant Professor, Department of Landscape Architecture. Her primary research area is in urban brownfield and abandoned land transformation, regeneration, and landscape planning and design. We also had several conversations with Jie Hu, Vice President and Director and Chief Designer of the Research Center for Landscape Architecture at Tsinghua Tongheng Urban Planning and Design Institute. We came away from these conversations with a guarded sense of optimism about the will and ability of China to tackle environmental issues. Of primary concern is the timing of environmental cleanup efforts; an initiative from the Central Government on the scale of the Sponge Cities Initiative will be needed to gain sufficient support and momentum. The timing of such an initiative is not certain.

Conversation with Dr Hu in his officeThank You:

Much thanks to the many people who hosted my wife Traci and me; their generosity, thoughtfulness, and many insights were very much appreciated. First and foremost our thanks go out to Hong Wu for her tireless and Ted and Hong at Summer Palaceflawless planning efforts. She kept us well cared for throughout the trip. Yubo Zou, President and CEO of Urban People+Space and his entire firm were fantastic hosts, providing engaging and thoughtful conversation, a forum for one of my lecturers, as well as guides for our travels throughout the wonderful city of Beijing and beyond. UP+S and MFA hope to forge a working relationship, and to that end I was formally commissioned as a partnering Technical Consultant in a ceremony at the UP+S headquarters. We look forward to successful partnering in the future!

….And Next Year:

In 2016 Tsinghua University is planning on hosting an international symposium on brownfields. From our discussions with Zheng Xiaodi, it sounds like they plan a broad-ranging agenda with international speakers. An exciting symposium to be sure, and one in which MFA may well be participating.

That’s it, good-bye for now, Zài jiàn – 再見/再见IMG_1021

staff image

Ted Wall, PE

Vice President/Principal Engineer

(503) 501-5210