Ming Chen - China - Unsplash

In profile: Jing Jia, PhD student

‘Superblocks’ are the product of rapid urban development, built to accommodate the pressing housing needs of soaring populations within cities facing land shortages. Over one square kilometre in size, superblocks can house many thousands of people in extremely high density, often in high-rise buildings.

While superblocks are a fantastic tool to help cities achieve their economic goals by reducing homelessness and allowing arable lands to be used for agriculture, they can also create serious water management challenges through their high demands for water supply and wastewater disposal.

Jing Jia grew up in China, which is currently experiencing urbanisation on a never-before-seen scale. A current PhD student at UNSW Sydney, Jing previously worked for the Beijing Enterprises Water Company. After becoming a mother, she begun to pay more attention to the living environment of the city and is currently exploring more sustainable methods of superblock development in China through her PhD research.

I believe that urbanisation can develop in a more sustainable way, and it is important to guarantee the wellbeing of our next generation

Jing Jia, PhD Student

“I believe that urbanisation can develop in a more sustainable way, and it is important to guarantee the wellbeing of our next generation” says Jing.

Jing’s PhD is focusing on the relationship between Chinese superblock development and ‘sponge city’ development – a green water management policy that promotes learning from nature. In contrast to the usual ‘grey’ water management method that is predominantly pipeline-based, a sponge-city approach often integrates plants, lakes and other natural resources into water management tools. The aim is for urban areas to be able to absorb and reuse water, but within high-density superblocks, available space for catchment and bio-treatment areas are limited.

Jing is investigating how best to catch and treat rain water and wastewater, especially at peak times.

“In the first few months of my PhD, I have been seeking to understand more about the current status of sponge city initiatives within superblocks, and ascertain people’s expectations,” said Jing.

Jing Jia, PhD Student

“I am also trying to develop a model using big data and parametric tools to find a more efficient scale within residential areas to collect, process and recycle water on site. These results can then be used to reconstruct superblocks and ultimately improve residents’ wellbeing.”

Jing says that developing superblocks using a sponge city approach offers an opportunity for cities around the world to develop more sustainably, allowing them to co-exist harmoniously with both nature and people. She says that UNSW provides the ideal environment for her PhD research.

“UNSW is a comprehensive university with a global perspective. I enjoy the friendly and open environment which encourages me to pursue the unknown,” says Jing.

“UNSW’s focus on social responsibility leads us to pay more attention to the pressing issues around world, and provides many opportunities for us to collaborate with classmates and other students to explore the pressing issues from different perspectives.”

Jing says that the relationship between superblocks and sponge city development is just the start, and that there are still many stories and challenges relating to water and cities waiting for to be explored.

After completing her PhD, Jing hopes to continue her research on this topic and participate in tangible projects to implement and further advance the results of her research.

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