About the Forum

Since 2011, the annual Future of Cities Forum brings together city councillors, urban planners, researchers, practitioners and representatives of civil society and the private sector from around the world to discuss key challenges and solutions for Regenerative Urban Development.

The Future of Cities Forum 2016 took in Tianjin, China on 21-22 October 2016. The event was organized by the World Future Council in partnership with UN Habitat and the Beijing Jiaotong University(BJTU)as an official sub-forum of the 7th China Binhai Tianjin International Eco-City Forum & Expo.

The main theme of the Forum was Sponge City design and development. An international exchange and high-level roundtable consisting of local and international government officials, researchers, relevant business representatives and civil society organizations discussed Sponge City design and innovation, incentive mechanisms, standards and guidelines, and provide practical suggestions for freshwater eco-system resilience in the context of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the New Urban Agenda and the Guideline of China’s 13th Five Year Plan. Moreover, a city-to-city exchange on regenerative urban development looked into widening ‘enabling conditions’ – policy, finance and innovative solutions.

The Future of Cities Forum 2016 was held as an official sub-forum of the 7th China (Binhai Tianjin) International Eco-City Forum & Expo which is China’s first large and comprehensive expo focused on eco-city development. Since 2010, it has been successfully held five times, and it has become the most important communication and cooperation platform of China’s eco-city construction. More than 10,000 government officials, renowned scholars and entrepreneurs from over 50 countries and districts have participated in this event, and more than 350 thousand people have visited it in person. The 7th China (Binhai Tianjin) International Eco-City Forum & Expo sets “Eco-City Creates Harmonious Future” as its permanent theme, and “Eco-City and Green Innovation” as its annual theme. About 800 participants from all over the world will gather at the Forum, including government officials, academy, research institutions, UN representatives, civil societies, entrepreneurs, and media from China and from abroad.


The four key objectives of the Future of Cities Forum 2016 were:

1) to strengthen key stakeholders understanding of Sponge Cities

2) to present best international solutions for Sponge City development to relevant cities´ stakeholders from China

3) to exchange lessons learnt between China and abroad

4) provide advice to the municipality of Binhai (Tianjin) on climate resilient development and urban water regeneration.

The Background

The extreme weather caused due to climate change has brought severe drought and flooding problems, which is not only the case in China, but in many other countries all over the world. In 2015 over 20 million people from 20 cites in China suffered from inner flooding with direct financial losses of about 35.3 billion Yuan (over 5 billion US dollars). With this in mind, the Chinese government launched the “Sponge City” campaign that plans to invest billion of dollars in urban water sensitive development. Currently there are 30 pilot cities in China, and every city is now developing under the Specialized Planning launched by the central government, which means sponge city is becoming one of the normalized investing among municipal infrastructure.

The Sponge City indicates a particular type of city that does not act like an impermeable system not allowing any water to filter through the ground, but, more like a sponge, actually absorbs the rain water, which is then naturally filtered by the soil and allowed to reach into the urban aquifers. This allows for the extraction of water from the ground through urban or peri-urban wells. This water can be easily treated and used for the city water supply.Benefits of Sponge City design include more clean water for the city, cleaner groundwater, increased climate resilience and reduction in flood risk, lower burdens on drainage systems and natural streams, greener, healthier, more enjoyable urban spaces and enriched urban biodiversity.

The World Future Council (WFC) promotes the concept of the Regenerative City, with a particular focus on identifying best policies and practices to help cities regenerate the resources and energy they consume. The Sponge City offers a natural and systematic solution to re-build the freshwater eco-system resilience of the city, and ensures that the city has a regenerative and symbiotic relationship with the ecosystem from which it depends, in this case its water resources. For this reason, the concept of the Sponge City directly relates to the broader concept of the Regenerative City.


Why do we need the Future of Cities Forum?

By 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in urban areas. Decisions made today by local authorities and national governments are critical in shaping the future we would like to see. These decisions must enforce policies that ensure decent livelihoods for all with more equity and social justice as well as policies that deal with already unavoidable climatic change and potential resource scarcity.

Our vision is not to merely look at the status quo and make incremental improvements but rather to consider the systemic changes we need to make now in order to ensure sustained human life on earth.

A wide range of technical and management solutions are already available. Policy makers need to know about the numerous successful policy instruments and good examples that already exist around the world. By facilitating dialogue cities and regions can learn from each other’s invaluable experiences. The guiding principle of the Future of Cities Forum is therefore to point out strategies that prove successful in creating regenerative cities. By sharing lessons learnt from model cities around the world we want to encourage their widespread adoption.

Regenerative urban development

A new model of urbanisation, powered by renewable energy and defined by a restorative and mutually beneficial relationship between cities and their hinterland, is urgently needed. Cities must go beyond sustainability to truly regenerative development: not only becoming resource-efficient and low carbon emitting, but positively enhancing rather than undermining the ecosystems on which they depend. Regenerative cities mimic nature’s circular metabolism and operate in a closed-loop system that transforms waste outputs into inputs of value.

Past Events: 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015

World Future Council | Lilienstrasse 5-9, 20095 Hamburg | Phone: +49 40 3070 914 - 29