Africatown in China

A few weeks ago I came across an interesting article in a Belgian magazine that described Africans trying their luck in China, more specifically this became: Africatown in Guangzhou. Reading it, I mostly enjoyed the change of perspective: the last few years China is investing heavily in many African countries – and this is changing the landscape of development aid and trade with the African continent and the rest of the world, most notably Europe.* It was good to read a different side of this story: the increasing connections between Africa and China are also creating opportunities for Africans to go to China and make their fortune out of this increased trade.

Tonight, the Dutch television programme Tegenlicht expanded on this article and gave a more inside view of the motivations of these people from Nigeria and many other countries to head to China (sometimes after spending time in other Asian countries such as Japan and Taiwan) and make a living for themselves there. Again, an interesting view just like the article provided.

But what the documentary added to this view of Africans coming to China, in this case specifically to Guangzhou in the Southeast, was a perspective on migration – and the benefits that this offers our society. Ian Goldin explained how all places have developed as a result of migration. One of my favourite parts of the documentary was where he gave examples of how – throughout history – in every society migrants play an essential part in economic development, new innovations and realising new ideas. As he said: “all great leaps in economic development are the result of migration.”. These major effects of migration are something that we don’t hear about enough.

Tegenlicht continued with a glimpse of the future: with the active workforce in Europe actually declining, Asia is the next place that offers a large – and for the moment – increasing workforce. In fact, China is currently home to one of the largest migration in history, where the countryside of China is mass migrating to the major cities, mostly to the East coast of China. However, Goldin also shows that this development is flattening off, which will leave even China with a labour scarcity in future. What will be the consequences of this? And how can our economic system and our society respond to these changes? In Goldin’s view, the EU has been successful in one thing: opening its borders which did not create mass migration but did create economic freedom, an essential part of a healthy economy.

The Tegenlicht screening can be seen online, where you can also find additional reading and references to other sources.

* I recently came across this book, now on my Amazon wishlist, which discusses this development: From recipients to donors

Making Chinese cities ‘smart’

A lot is being written about ecocities in China. Smart cities, sustainable cities, future cities: you can call them by different names which mostly come down to the same thing. In my (non-official) definition: a city which is built for the future, which can offer its inhabitants a high quality of life while using its natural resources sustainably (i.e. staying within the limits of this planet) and making smart connections through IT, use of land, agriculture, nature etc – and of course through its people!

As you can probably tell from some earlier posts on this blog, it is also a topic I’m very interested in. It seems to be bringing together so many different things that fascinate and inspire me.

Architecture and design: what will these cities look like, and how do they need to be designed to offer a comfortable and happy place to live?

Sustainability: how can these megacities keep growing and offer space for so many people while using its resources responsibly? How do you feed a city with millions of people living in it?

Business: what role can companies play in inventing innovations which will make life in a big city so much smoother for the millions living there; and in Asia often in poverty?

Earlier this week I came across an online talk by Dutch architect Neville Mars, talking about ecocities and what the many issues are in developing these successfully in China. Interesting talk, which he gave at TEDxTheBund last October in Shanghai.


The Netherlands is also following these developments, some examples of which are a seminar on smart cities in Asia late 2012 (of which you can find short excerpts on developments in the various countries here), a Dutch sustainable building platform in Shanghai and other activities both by the Dutch government representation in China and by companies and individuals active in this field.

There seems to be a lot going on, but at the same time making real progress is difficult – which Neville Mars’ talk illustrates clearly as well. Some of my preferred websites to keep track of these developments are, for example:

Any favourites yourself? I would love to add a few more to this list!