“If you are intelligent just for the sake of being intelligent, you are in fact not smart”, says Siegfried Wu, one of
China’s leading urban planners. “The crucial thing is to know what each city needs.”
What that means, exactly, varies from place to place. With regards to China, however, Wu is convinced that the most urgent
city needs at this point in time are ecological sustainability and heritage protection. “This is really at the core of what
I preach and what I practice”, he says. “It is like my right hand and my left hand.”
Siegfried Wu has built his entire career around smart cities. As chief planner, he was in charge of organizing the Shanghai
Expo in 2010 – a huge event on the scale of the Olympic Games. Moreover, Wu is constantly working with hundreds of mayors across
China. His task is to assist them in their efforts to make their cities smarter. Comprehensive solutions for districts and
entire cities are part of this, as are so-called pilot towns. These are pioneering cities willing to experiment with new
approaches to urban planning that can later be transferred to other metropolitan areas. In a word, his job is urban planning
on a large scale.
Wu studied urban planning at Tongji University, where he now works as Dean of the College for Design and Planning. Upon
his graduation, he went to Germany in 1988, where he obtained a doctoral degree, also in urban planning, at the Technische
Universität in Berlin. He stayed on for a few years after his dissertation, working as a planner for projects in East Germany
and other former East Bloc countries.
In 1997, he went back to Shanghai, but he still feels a bit like a Berliner. Moreover, Wu is a member of the Berliner
Zukunftskommission or Commission for the Future, a body concerned with making Berlin a smarter city as well. While Germany’s
transformation after the fall of the Iron Curtain did keep him busy, the tasks faced by urban planners in China are on an
altogether different scale.
China is in the middle of the largest urbanization process in world history. In the past 30 years, more than 400 million
people have moved into the cities in China. In the next 15 years, a further 300 million or so will follow. By 2030, a
billion people will be living in Chinese urban areas. This is a huge challenge. It is also a great chance, says Wu.
“I think what we will be seeing here is a whole new generation of cities.”
Wu began to spell out what this means in detail with his Eco-City Model, a project that was launched in 2002. Its aim:
to develop complete infrastructure models for individual districts and entire cities. These models are to provide the
answer to the crucial question posed by the massive urbanisation in China. How can one improve the quality of life in
the cities, meet urban energy demand and simultaneously keep energy consumption under control?
This may sound like squaring the circle. But there is an answer to this challenge. It includes intelligent building
management systems and the use of renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and hydropower. Efficient water
treatment facilities and extensive public transport systems are also a crucial part of this.
All these building blocks are a part of Siemens’ portfolio. “With its virtually unique worldwide expertise in
technological infrastructures”, says Wu, “Siemens is the ideal partner.”
While smart cities are thought of as an answer to the challenges of the future, one important aspect of the future is
how one relates to the past. This is why Wu takes heritage protection very seriously. One aspect of this is the
retrofitting of old buildings to new use. Apart from the obvious economic and ecological benefits that this can
bring about, Wu is convinced that heritage protection is an essential part of what makes a city smarter. “Naturally, we
have to be smart with regards to the future”, says Wu. “But this alone is not enough. We have to be smart in relating
to our history as well.”