Yu Kongjian describes his near-drowning incident in the river. The rice terraces in Yu’s agricultural commune in China had been drowned by the White Sand Creek, which had been swollen by rain. When Yu was 10 years old, he rushed to the river’s edge. In an instant, the ground beneath his feet collapsed, sending him into the floods.

Yu Kongjian, an urban design theorist and Dean of Peking University’s College of architecture and landscape, is the creator of the sponge city concept for flood management, which is being implemented in a number of Chinese towns. While others question if sponge towns can function in the face of more extreme floods caused by climate change, he feels it is a model that other areas may adopt.

The work was totally worth it. Following President Xi Jinping’s approval, China revealed a multibillion-yuan plan with a lofty goal: by 2030, 80 percent of China’s urban areas must have sponge city qualities and recycle at least 70 percent of rainfall.