Are Model Cities an Effective Instrument for Urban Environmental Governance?

  • Stefan BrehmEmail author
  • Jesper Svensson
Part of the ARI - Springer Asia Series book series (ARI, volume 7)


Since the 1980s, China’s central government has created various model and incentive schemes aimed at systematically and concurrently promoting innovative approaches for protecting the urban ecological environment. In this context, programmes such as the ‘model city for protecting the environment’, ‘garden city’, ‘eco-city’, or ‘low-carbon city’ have become an integral part of China’s system for urban environmental governance. However, the role of these policy-incentive schemes for promoting best practice is only partly understood. This chapter contributes to the literature with a conceptualization of model cities as a dynamic governance instrument. The analysis suggests that the distance between programme objectives and local practices increases with programme maturity. Model-city schemes inevitably reach a point of saturation once a competing programme provides new opportunities to gain political and economic rents.


National Model City for Environmental Protection programme Model-city programmes Incentive schemes Urban project’s life-cycle perspective 


  1. Ahlers, A. L., & Schubert, G. (2013). Strategic modelling: ‘Building a new socialist countryside’ in three Chinese counties. The China Quarterly, 216, 831–849.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Baker, S. (2015). Sustainable development. New York: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  3. Bulkeley, H., Broto, V. C., & Edwards, G. (2012). Bringing climate change to the city: Towards low carbon urbanism? Local Environment, 17(5), 545–551.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Chen, A., & Gao, J. (2011). Urbanization in China and the coordinated development model—The case of Chengdu. The Social Science Journal, 48(3), 500–513.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Chen, X., Geng, Y., & Fujita, T. (2010). An overview of municipal solid waste management in China. Waste Management, 30(4), 716–724.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cooke, S. (2009). 7 ‘Religious work’. In China’s governmentalities: Governing change, changing government (Vol. 33, pp. 125–150). Hoboken: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  7. Dosi, G. (1982). Technological paradigms and technological trajectories: a suggested interpretation of the determinants and directions of technical change. Research policy, 11(3), 147–162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dynon, N. (2014). Civilisation-state: Modernising the past to civilise the future in Jiang Zemin’s China. China: An International Journal, 12(1), 22–42.Google Scholar
  9. Eaton, S., & Kostka, G. (2014). Authoritarian environmentalism undermined? Local leaders’ time horizons and environmental policy implementation in China. The China Quarterly, 218, 359–380.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Economy, E. (2006). Environmental governance: The emerging economic dimension. Environmental Politics, 15(02), 171–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Francesch-Huidobro, M., Lo, C. W.-H., & Tang, S.-Y. (2012). The local environmental regulatory regime in China: Changes in pro-environment orientation, institutional capacity, and external political support in Guangzhou. Environment and Planning-Part A, 44(10), 2493.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Greenhalgh, S. (2008). Globalization and population governance in China (pp. 354–372). In: Global assemblages. Blackwell Publishing Ltd.Google Scholar
  13. Heberer, T., & Schubert, G. (2008). Regime legitimacy in contemporary China: Institutional change and stability. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  14. Heilmann, S. (2008). Policy experimentation in China’s economic rise. Studies in Comparative International Development, 43(1), 1–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Heilmann, S. (2009). Maximum tinkering under uncertainty unorthodox lessons from China. Modern China, 35(4), 450–462.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hillman, B. (2014). Patronage and power: Local state networks and party-state resilience in rural China. Stanford: Stanford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hoffman, L. (2009). Governmental rationalities of environmental city-building in contemporary China. In China’s governmentalities: governing change, changing government (pp. 107–124). Oxon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  18. Hoffman, L. (2011). Urban modeling and contemporary technologies of city-building in China: The production of regimes of green urbanisms. In Worlding cities (pp. 55–76). West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Khanna, N., Fridley, D., & Hong, L. (2014). China's pilot low-carbon city initiative: A comparative assessment of national goals and local plans. Sustainable Cities and Society, 12, 110–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kostka, G., & Mol, A. P. J. (2013). Implementation and participation in China’s local environmental politics: Challenges and innovations. Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, 15(1), 3–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kuhn’s, T. (1962). The structure of scientific revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  22. Li, C. (1997). Rediscovering China: Dynamics and dilemmas of reform. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  23. Li, W., & Higgins, P. (2013). Controlling local environmental performance: An analysis of three national environmental management programs in the context of regional disparities in China. Journal of Contemporary China, 22(81), 409–427.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Li, Y.-w., Miao, B., & Lang, G. (2011). The local environmental state in China: A study of county-level cities in Suzhou. The China Quarterly, 205, 115–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Liu, L. (2013). Chinese model cities and cancer villages: Where environmental policy is social policy. In I. Wallimann (Ed.), Environmental policy is social policy—social policy is environmental policy (pp. 121–134). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Liu, Q., & Wang, Q. (2013). Pathways to SO 2 emissions reduction in China for 1995–2010: Based on decomposition analysis. Environmental Science & Policy, 33, 405–415.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Liu, L., Zhang, B., & Bi, J. (2012). Reforming China’s multi-level environmental governance: Lessons from the 11th five-year plan. Environmental Science & Policy, 21, 106–111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Liu, N., Lo, CW.-H., & Zhan. X. (2013). Collaborative governance and corporate environmental compliance in China. Conference paper.Google Scholar
  29. Mackinnon, M. (2009). The people’s republic of green. The Globe and Mail.Google Scholar
  30. Marquis, C., Zhang, J., & Zhou, Y. (2011). Regulatory uncertainty and corporate response: How China’s environmental enforcement is catching up to regulation and how business can keep up. California Management Review, 54, 39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Martinot, E., Li, J., & Mastny, L. (2007). Powering China’s development: The role of renewable energy. DC: Worldwatch Institute Washington.Google Scholar
  32. MEP. (2005). Evaluation criteria and implementation guidelines for national model city for protecting the environment during the eleventh five-year plan period (Revised) [关于印发 “十一五”国家环境保护模范城市考核指 标及其实施细则(修订)的通知]. Available at Accessed on 10 June 2018.
  33. Mol, A. P., & Liu, Y. (2005). Institutionalising cleaner production in China: The cleaner production promotion law. International Journal of Environment and Sustainable Development, 4(3), 227–245.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Murphey, R. (1967). Man and nature in China. Modern Asian Studies, 1(4), 313–333.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Oberheitmann, A., & Ruan, X. (2013). Low carbon city planning in China. In F. Urban & J. Nordensvärd (Eds.), Low carbon development: Key issues (pp. 270–283). London: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  36. Peck, J., & Theodore, N. (2010). Mobilizing policy: Models, methods, and mutations. Geoforum, 41, 169–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Qi, Y., Ma, L., Zhang, H., & Li, H. (2008). Translating a global issue into local priority China’s local government response to climate change. The Journal of Environment & Development, 17(4), 379–400.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Ran, R. (2013). Perverse incentive structure and policy implementation gap in China's local environmental politics. Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, 15(1), 17–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Stanway, D. (2014). Pollution plagues China’s Baoding despite bid to clean up act. Reuters.Google Scholar
  40. Tsai, W.-H., & Dean, N. (2014). Experimentation under hierarchy in local conditions: Cases of political reform in Guangdong and Sichuan, China. The China Quarterly, 218, 339–358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Van Rooij, B., Fryxell, G. E., Lo, C. W.-H., & Wang, W. (2013). From support to pressure: The dynamics of social and governmental influences on environmental law enforcement in Guangzhou City, China. Regulation & Governance, 7(3), 321–347.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Wang, S. (2009). Adapting by learning: The evolution of China’s rural health care financing. Modern China, 35(4), 370–404.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Wang, A. (2013a). The search for sustainable legitimacy: Environmental law and bureaucracy in China. Harvard Environmental Law Review, 37, 365–440.Google Scholar
  44. Wang, A. L. (2013b). Search for sustainable legitimacy: Environmental law and bureaucracy in China.Google Scholar
  45. Wang, L., Zhang, P., Tan, S., Zhao, X., Cheng, D., Wei, W., Su, J., & Pan, X. (2013a). Assessment of urban air quality in China using air pollution indices (APIs). Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association, 63(2), 170–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Wang, W., Zheng, G., & Pan, J. (2013b). China’s climate change policies. Hoboken: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  47. Xia, C., & Pahl-Wostl, C. (2012). The process of innovation during transition to a water saving society in China. Water Policy, 14(3), 447.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Yu, L. (2014). Low carbon eco-city: New approach for Chinese urbanisation. Habitat International, 44(0), 102–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Zhou, N., He, G., & Williams, C. (2012). China’s development of low-carbon eco-cities and associated indicator systems (No. LBNL–5873E). Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. (LBNL), Berkeley, CA (United States). Available at Accessed on 06 June 2018.
  50. Zweig, D. (1997). Institutional constraints, path dependence, and entrepreneurship: Comparing Nantong and Zhangjiagang, 1984–1996. In J. H. Chung (Ed.), Agents of development: sub-provincial cities in Post-Mao China (pp. 213–253).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for East and South-East Asian StudiesLund UniversityLundSweden
  2. 2.Smith School of Enterprise and the EnvironmentUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

Personalised recommendations