The Project

This research project is one of 9 projects within the framework of the program “Research for Sustainable Development of the Megacities of Tomorrow” and is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung).

Project Title

RECAST URUMQI: Meeting the Resource Efficiency Challenge in a Climate Sensitive Dryland Megacity Environment: Urumqi as a Model City for Central Asia

Objectives and Key Aspects

The objective of the transdisciplinary project is to develop strategies and tools for the sustainable development of a rapidly expanding metropolis in arid central Asia (Urumqi/NW China), so as to promote and guarantee current and future quality of life in this urban area. To reach this goal, key agents from the fields of research and local administrations as well as business cooperate closely within the project. Over the course of the project feedback mechanisms are to be applied to accompany the developing process that will be taking place over 5 years.

The main focal points of the project are directed at the ecologically sensitive and closely interrelated core cycles water, materials and energy. The project is therefore divided into three core cycles: energy, water resource, and material resource efficiency. energy, water resource, and material resource efficiency.

Konzept Recast Urumqi (Th. Sterr)

Concept Recast Urumqi (Source: Th. Sterr)

Moreover, Urumqi can serve as a model for developing strategies and technologies for sustainable growth that can then be transferred to other metropolises in arid Areas.

Urumqi – a rapidly growing city in arid north-western China

The object of research is the city of Urumqi, the capital of the autonomous region Xinjiang, located in north-western China, which is characterized by an arid landscape.

Übersichtskarte China mit Urumqi

General map of China with Ürümqi (Source: CIA Factbook; public Domain)

On the basis of extensive natural resources – especially coal, natural gas, oil, and salt – Urumqi has enjoyed tremendous economic growth rates (even by Chinese standards) over the last 2 decades. Similarly, the population has grown with the economic success of Urumqi and currently numbers 2.7 million inhabitants. As a result, the municipal boundaries of Urumqi have expanded well into the surrounding areas, a development which prompted the Government of Xinjiang to plan administrative and municipal reforms, culminating in a merging Urumqi and the City of Changji. This process of reform began in 2005 and is also partly responsible for the increasing population of Urumqi; in 2008, Midong was incorporated into Urumqi leading to an increase of 200,000 inhabitants. Similarly, if one considers the current population in the area of the proposed merger today (Urumqi + Changji = the future U-Chang), then the total population of this new megacity would amount to 4.6 million inhabitants.

Zentrum von Urumqi (Bild: M.Seyboth)

Urumqi City Center (Picture: M.Seyboth)

Even despite the statistical effect of these administrative changes, the City of Urumqi – as the majority of Central Asia – has been and continues to be in a dynamic state of development and transformation. From 1950 to 2000, Urumqi, which derives its name from the Jungarian people and means “sweet land of pasture”, has changed from a regional city of 100,000 inhabitants to a bustling metropolis known as “The Central City of Central Asia”! Indeed, this dynamic process is the result of different factors and diverse forces. The difficulty one faces in managing such a dynamic process is compounded by the heterogeneous nature of this multiethnic conglomerate. Consequently, it is all the more important that the process is accompanied by a great deal of political tact, societal integration, and appropriate strategies and measures for the efficient use of valuable communal resources. This is precisely the focus of the RECAST Urumqi Project, which aims at improving the sustainable management of scarce resources through increased efficiency in energy, materials, and water.


Urumqi – as a Model

The expansion of the Urumqi agglomeration is causing environmental problems that are typical for cities in arid areas. Such cities are characterised by limited ecological resources as well as a high sensitivity and reactivity towards changes caused by nature (global change) and man (human impact). The sensitivity towards interior and exterior influences on urban life in arid areas affects all functional interactions between the social, economic and ecological dynamics. Despite the high potential risk involved, the conditions under which the process of urbanisation in arid areas takes place has hardly been explored so far. Urumqi, with its present dynamic development, is anticipating a process that other ambitious dry land metropolises are observing with great interest, especially in Central Asia (particularly in the former Soviet Republics), but also in the Middle East and on the outer borders of the Sahara Desert. For the project to meet its claim to be transferable to issues beyond the need for action in a given situation, management strategies, training programs and technologies should not only focus on essential key points, but at the same time be designed in an adequately flexible fashion.

Duration of the Project

The project funding by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research initially covered a set-up-phase of two years (September 2005 - August 2007). During this time the contacts with our key Chinese partners in Urumqi and surrounding Changji were intensified and the central needs of the population were identified and documented. Initially, concepts for each core cycle were developed. On 01 May 2008 the main phase began, and was planned for the duration of the period 2008 - 2013.


Coordination Office

Dr. Thomas Sterr   Dipl. Vw. Sha Xia

Institute of Geography University of Heideberg

Im Neuenheimer Feld 348  
69120 Heidelberg
Fon.: +49 (0)6221/54 45 84  
Fax.: +49 (0)6221/54 49 97  


Institute for Eco-Industrial Analysis

Tiergartenstr. 17
D-69121 Heidelberg
Fon.: +49 (0)6221/64 94 013
Fax.: +49 (0)6221/64 94 014