Geeks on a Plane Tour - Shanghai Day 3: TEDx Shanghai 2009

Original Post on CNReviews (Many thanks to Kai Pan for that!)

The preliminary comments are taken from our Geeks on a Plane Blog (Big Cheers to Tina Tran).

Tina also did a 'Top 10 Geeks on a Plane Experiences' Post. 'Had we traveled as individuals to Shanghai, Beijing and Tokyo, it would have taken at least six months to a year to form the bonds and connections that we did in ten days' might best sum up her impressions of this spectacularly successful and rewarding tour.

The Geeks rang in the last day of our tour at TEDxShanghai. It was the first TEDx for many of us, and it lived up to the hype! Presentations were given in either Chinese or English with the benefit of real-time translations as well as live broadcasting on Tudou, China's largest video sharing website.


Speakers inspired with messages of changing the world through travel and individual contribution, rediscovering common sense to live consciously with thoughtful actions, and investing in developing countries as the next big opportunity to both lift nations and earn a high return on capital investments.


Three soul-lifting musical performances elicited wide smiles, head bopping, and hand clapping from the enthusiastic audience. The afternoon session had a slightly web-focused theme, and continued the common thread of sharing, openness and community. The lively presentations served to accomplish the goal of TEDxShanghai: to inspire excitement and action by discussing ideas that are outside of what we expose ourselves to everyday.

Big thanks to Sage Brennan and Christine Lu of Chinameme for organizing an excellent inaugural TEDxShanghai. Congratulations on eliciting so much interest from the community and gaining a turnout of 15,000 to watch the Tudou livestream!

TEDxShanghai 2009 Coverage Overview

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from those three worlds and has grown into a showcase for the world's most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes). TED has also become an online phenomenon with many of the best TED talks shared at helping TED fulfill its mission: Spreading ideas.


In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TED has created a program called TEDx. TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At our TEDxShanghai event, TEDTalks video and live speakers will combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group.


So, our hope with covering TEDxShanghai will be to expand that small group to include you, sharing with you some of the ideas and discussion that are happening here at M1NT this afternoon. We'll be live-blogging our notes, observations, and thoughts from the series of great speakers today as there's both a solid wifi connection* and great speaker system today (bravo M1NT). Of course, our notes may be disorganized but we'll try to organize and clean them up as we get the chance (during coffee breaks or whatnot).


If you're keen, you can watch TEDxShanghai live via Vimeo (embedded below). We just finished watching a spirited presentation by Hans Roslin's you can also see here.



* UPDATE: Spoke too soon. The wifi went down during the event or, actually, was cut off to conserve bandwidth for live-streaming the event to Tudou. I did get access later on, but wasn't able to "live-blog" as hoped for.

Stefano Negri: Preparing For China’s Urban Billion

At TEDxShanghai 2009, Stefano Negri gave a talk based on his research for McKinsey & Co. concerning urbanization or the growth of cities in China, offering some great observations about how China's cities have developed over the past 30 years, and some ideas on how China should approach continued urbanization.


But first, an TEDxShanghai introduction of Stefano:

Stefano Negri helps cities juggle their growing urbanization challenge. Literally. After juggling his way through Europe, one public square at a time, Stefano graduated as a Land Planning and Environmental Engineer. He worked for NGOs counting crocodiles in Colombia's lagoons, cows in Tanzania, trees and cars in Italy. In 2001 he figured out he could have a greater impact on the planet by advisng private and public sector companies for management consulting company McKinsey & Co. Recently, as part of the mcKinsey Global Institute, he authored several macroeconomic research articles and reports including "Preparing for China's Urban Billion", which analyses the evolution of urbanization in China and its implications for businesses and policy makers. Currently, he lives in Shanghai and juggles a wife, two kids, and McKinsey's City Service line - advising cities on smarter, more efficient ways of urbanizing.


Negri starts off by explaining the big question he started off with in his research: What is the ideal size of a city?


The joke: An American urban planner answers "about half a million." The Chinese planner says "something between 10-15 million." And the Italian? "For every 300-500 people, as long as there is a church a place to get a good cup of coffee."

[It wasn't really funny for me either, but I'm not Italian.]


Negri asks, "but is there an ideal size for a city?"


30 years ago, Shenzen was a fisherman village with maybe a few thousand people. Today, it is a massive metropolis home to 8 million people.

The fact is, China has replicated in mere decades what took centuries to happen in other countries. Over the last 20 years:

  • Disposable income has gone up 3x,
  • Over 250 Chinese cities have tripled their GDP per capita, and…
  • More than 350 million Chinese have been lifted out of poverty.


However, urban sprawl has led to problems:

  • Shortage of resources and pollution,
  • Small cities are fiscally strained trying to provide public services, and…
  • There is “not enough talent.”


While there are plenty of graduates each year in China, there just isn’t enough “quality”, or so Negri argues, and this talent is necessary to manage such urbanization.


But what about the future? The next 20 years?

  • +350 million urbanites as rural Chinese continue to migrate into cities,
  • >200 cities bigger than 1 million (in Europe, only 35 cities are of this size, America has 9), and…
  • Up to 50,000 new skyscrapers (or building 20 Manhattans from scratch, or 1 Chicago every year).

Chinese cities are redefinng urbanization. So...what is the ideal size of a city in China?


Where are the 350 million new urbanites going to go? Negri suggests there are two options:


A. Dispersed urbanization

  • Flow to smaller cities, or create new cities.
  • 300 new cities of less than half million people.
  • Smaller cities growing faster.


B. Concentrated urbanization

  • 15 cities with more than 20 million people.
  • 5 cities with more than 30 million people.


Of these two options, Negri believes concentrated urbanization would be best for China, arguing that bigger cities in China are more efficient and even cleaner. There are the pros:

  • Faster economic growth.
  • More jobs.
  • Less arable land loss.
  • More energy efficient.


...but of course, also the cons:

  • Traffic congestion.
  • Peak air pollution.
  • Water scarcity.


These cons certainly demonstrate how even if concentrated urbanization is better, it is not the "complete answer." But what else is part of the answer? The mayors of these Chinese cities who, like jugglers, must constantly juggle economic development, allocation of resources, management of people/talent, and land. Like pilots, these mayors need instrument and control panels to monitor the development and conditions of their cities, and manage what Negri calls "urban productivity."


That latter part seems to be what Negri may be looking into next, but concluding his TED talk, Negri says China has definitely surprised the world in the last 30 years, and he's confident China will continue to do so in the future.


For more reading on urbanization and why even bigger cities in China is good for China, check out the Newsweek article "Where Big Is Best" that used his research from McKinsey. More TEDxShanghai 2009 coverage here.

An Zhu (Andrew Yu): Travel Can Change The World

An Zhu (安猪) is something of a nickname for Andrew Yu, who gave a presentation at TEDxShanghai 2009 introducing his NGO 1kg More and how travelers like himself can "change the world", you guessed it, 1kg at a time.


An Zhu is a travel lover who has been through most of China's southwestern provinces. In 2004, having seen many rural schools, he founded 1kg More to encourage everyone to help these schools with their travel. The concept is simple. 1KG more encourages travelers to bring 1 kg of books or supplies to schools on their travels. To date 1kg More has helped more than 700 rural schools. An Zhu believes in "participatory democracy", and adds that charity should not be by a small number of experts or beholden to great philanthropists; the world's progress must be driven by the countless ordinary people.

An Zhu started his talk by sharing pictures of rural Chinese children in China he has met in his travels. There are 66 million impoverished children in China, prompting him to ask himself how people like himself can help them and make a difference. There are 300 million people who travel (for leisure) in China, and 300 million > than 66 million.

But how do you mobilize these 300 million people? How do you make it easier for them to act, to contribute, without the act itself discouraging them before they get started? Hence, the simple idea of merely bringing 1kg extra worth of luggage as they travel, with that luggage being books or materials they can drop off and donate to the poor schools these travelers encounter at their destinations and in their travels.

Going further, Andrew's 1kg More utilizes the internet to organize all the schools participating in their program, what they need (so travelers aren't always bringing the same thing over and over again, like "pencils"), and where they are, to efficiently guide travelers with the heart to do their bit.

1kg More now has over 700 participating schools, up from 120+ last April, and 98 in 2007. 50+ events happen each month.


We've written about Andrew and 1kg More before. Be sure to read our past posts, Grass-roots NGO in China: 1kg More 多背一公斤 and Belated Happy Birthday to "1kg More" and Updates, for much more information on how they do what they do, and how you can help. More TEDxShanghai 2009 coverage here.

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