Successful ICMA Summit in China

ICMA's successful International Regional Summit in Yangzhou, China, offered professional and educational opportunities focusing on the challenges of sustainable development in a rapidly urbanizing world.

ARTICLE | Jun 2, 2014
ICMA and the city of Yangzhou sign a memorandum of understanding to establish a training base for the ICMA China Center
  • “A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience China up close and personal.”
  • “A truly incredible experience in every respect.”
  • “My trip to China was an unforgettable one.”

As these comments show, ICMA’s first International Regional Summit was a great success. That was the consensus of ICMA members, Chinese officials and professors, and other international participants who met in Yangzhou, China, May 11-15. In addition to positive feedback from participants, this inaugural event received significant national press coverage on TV and in newspapers in China.

Sponsored jointly with the city of Yangzhou and the ICMA China Center, the summit offered presentations, site visits, case studies, and discussions focused on the theme of “Eco-Friendly Urbanization” and the challenges of sustainable development facing cities in a rapidly urbanizing world. It attracted 200 people from eight countries, including representatives from China’s Ministry of Housing and Urban Rural Development and the China Center for Urban Development under the National Development and Reform Commission, critical players in sustainable development and urbanization.

According to ICMA Executive Director Robert J. O’Neill Jr. “The summit was an opportunity for ICMA members, U.S. cities, and ICMA as an organization to engage in dialogue with professionals from eight countries and to strengthen ties with China. It represented a significant step forward for the ICMA China Center as it continues to develop a program of exchanges, research projects, conferences, and publications.” And it provided a forum to debut ICMA’s Life, Well Run video with subtitles in Mandarin—reinforcing the power of professional management worldwide.

Opening Events

In an opening address, ICMA President Simon Farbrother, city manager, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, said, “The summit is an opportune time to have a truly international discussion and to address important issues of mutual interest. . . . The rapid pace of urbanization in China is unprecedented, and the international delegates are looking forward to participating in thought-provoking discussions.”

Mr. O’Neill presented a keynote highlighting ICMA’s sustainability activities, leading practices in the United States, and the transition from a strictly environmental focus to “triple bottom line” sustainability that encompasses economic sustainability and social equity as well.

ICMA International Committee chair Clay Pearson, city manager in Pearland, Texas, provided an overview of local governance in the United States. Drawing examples from Pearland, he explained the roles of federal, state, and local governments; the practice of professional management in the council-manager form; the relationship between elected leaders and the appointed administrator; and the requirements of the ICMA Code of Ethics.

A final highlight of the opening session was a presentation of the results of an ICMA-funded study of Chinese small town development and citizen satisfaction by Mr. Zhan Chengyu, a professor at the China University of Political Science and Law (CUPL), ICMA’s partner in the ICMA China Center. The survey was conducted with assistance from the Boulder, Colorado-based National Research Center, ICMA’s partner in the National Citizen Survey.

ICMA International Committee

The summit also served as the venue for the annual spring meeting of the ICMA International Committee. The committee celebrated the significance of the event as a step in “normalizing” the “I” in ICMA. The summit advanced the committee’s priority to increase awareness and interest in professional local government worldwide and to continue expanding ICMA’s international network. Like the U.S.-based regional summits, it provided a forum for professional development as well as an opportunity to conduct regional business. Consistent with the theme of the summit, the committee is finalizing a white paper on international perspectives on local government sustainability.

China Bob and scholarship winners

ICMA Executive Director Bob O'Neill with scholarship recipients

The committee was also instrumental in providing John Garvey Scholarship funds that enabled two young professionals to attend the summit: Melissa Valadez-Stephens, Assistant City Manager, Cedar Hill, Texas, and Maureen Lu, International Program Officer for Local Government Managers Australia (LGMA), one of ICMA’s international affiliate organizations. Said Melissa: “Without the scholarship, I could not have attended the summit, which has been a key step in my professional growth. I am forever grateful to the committee for making the next generation a priority in providing this opportunity.”

An ICMA Training Base in China

At the summit, ICMA formalized two agreements that advance the organization’s acceptance as a training partner in China. A memorandum of understanding with the city of Yangzhou established that city as a training base for the ICMA China Center. ICMA will provide training for Chinese municipal officials, including those in the city of Yangzhou, and will assist the city in accessing management best practices and establishing partnerships and exchanges with cities represented by ICMA’s members and international affiliates.

A second agreement, with CUPL, seeks to further the Chinese government’s mission to fund collaboration by leading Chinese universities with other institutions to foster innovation. Contingent on a grant to the university’s Center for Cooperative Innovation for Governance by Law (CCIGL), the partnership will provide opportunities for exchanges by professors, researchers, students, and interns from both countries as well as joint conferences and publications.

These agreements build on a foundation firmed up over several years. ICMA, with support from the China Center, was approved as an official training partner of the State Administration of Foreign Expert Affairs (SAFEA), meaning that ICMA is certified to provide training and capacity building for Chinese local government officials. SAFEA is the key agency to approve training programs for Chinese local governments.

ICMA also has signed a memorandum of understanding with the National Academy for Mayors in China (NAMC) to enhance the center’s training offerings. NAMC is the leading agency providing regular training opportunities to local government officials in China.

Professional Dialogue

The summit offered opportunities for professional dialogue between ICMA members and Chinese government officials and academia. For example, a forum on “Urban Governance in the Backdrop of China’s New Urbanization,” facilitated by Chang Baoguo of CUPL, focused on research papers that surveyed Chinese urbanization as compared to international practice. While a Chinese strategy of moving people from rural to urban areas is viewed as a way to lift them out of poverty, participants discussed whether increased urban density would threaten the sustainability of urban services. Among the presenters was William Monahan, city manager, Milwaukie, Oregon.

China low carbon city

Visitors explore a low-carbon community in Yangzhou

Summit participants visited a low-carbon community in the center of Yangzhou that features green technology solutions and meets the highest standards of energy efficiency. The Yangzhou government sought advice from the international government experts to find the best usage for the buildings. Most of them are slated to become small “family hotels,” but they haven’t been launched yet. This is an experiment by Yangzhou, as the city has a large area in the old town area that it needs to redevelop.

U.S.-China EcoPartnerships

As a participant in the U.S. Department of State’s EcoPartnerships program, the ICMA China Center is committed to fostering cooperative relationships between U.S. and Chinese entities that work together to promote economic growth, energy security, and environmental sustainability.

During the summit, three U.S. cities and their Chinese counterparts formalized EcoPartnerships pledging “friendly cooperation” over an 18-month period to share best practices, exchange technical knowledge and strategies, and foster innovation in seeking solutions to environmental challenges relating to urbanization and sustainable development. The partners will develop and carry out work plans through electronic communication and reciprocal city-to-city visits. The following partnerships were formalized in a signing ceremony:

  • Greenville, Wisconsin, and Hangji Town
  • Milwaukie, Oregon, and Gongdao Town of Gaoyou City
  • Austin, Texas, and Yizhen City.

Study Tours and Educational Opportunities

To enrich the experience, the ICMA China Center offered pre- and post-summit study tours combining visits to historical and cultural sites with professional meetings in Chinese cities. These were the first in a series of study tours the Center will offer in the future.

Before the summit, 47 participants visited the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and other landmarks in Beijing. They also toured the Zhongguancun Science Park (known as Z-Park) to view its science exhibits.

The pre-summit tour included a seminar on “Governance by Law” at CCIGL. The seminar explored the similarities and differences between the Chinese and U.S. local government systems and management techniques. In addition, the discussion highlighted the issue of illegal building and construction in China, which has been a significant challenge for Chinese cities in recent years.

The seminar was opened by Professor Ma Huaide, Vice President of CUPL, and closed by Judit Deilinger, Director of New Initiatives, ICMA. It included presentations by four ICMA members: W. (Lane) Bailey, city manager, Lenoir, North Carolina; Edwin C. Daley, project administrator, Emporia, Virginia; Edward Fraser, director of Finance and Corporate Services, Central Desert Regional Council, Northern Territory, Australia; and Christopher Heineman, Community Planning and Development director, Northfield, Minnesota.

Two study tours were offered after the summit: One to Wuxi, Hangzhou, and Shanghai and a second to Xi’an and Shanghai.

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