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Urban Development

Cities in Eastern Europe and Central Asia: A Story of Urban Growth and Decline

MD Staff

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The urbanization experience of countries across Eastern Europe and Central Asia is quite unique, and for several reasons. To begin with, most of these countries attained high-urbanization levels under a centrally-planned system, in which non-economic factors were pivotal in shaping the spatial distribution of both the population and economic activities.

By 1989, close to 64% of the population in the region lived in urban areas. Cities were founded in remote areas and often created and consolidated around a single industry. While more than 25 years have passed since the fall of the Soviet Union, the central-planning legacy is likely to continue influencing the trajectory of urban areas in the region for decades to come.

Today, urbanization in Eastern European and Central Asian countries is also profoundly affected by demographic transition. Having experienced more than two decades of fertility rates below replacement levels, and currently suffering from negative net-migration rates, many countries in the region are experiencing an overall decline of their population. Compared to the rest of the world, countries in the region have much lower population growth rates, and are among the only countries experiencing both a decline of their total population and of their urban population.

With a smaller labor force available, cities across Eastern Europe and Central Asia are increasingly competing against each other to attract scarce human capital. On one hand, the region’s cities are facing population decline in unprecedented numbers and scale: between 2000 and 2010, 61% of the cities in the region were declining, losing on average 11% of their population. On the other hand, population growth is increasingly concentrated in a fewer number of cities.

Spatial GINI coefficients – which measure the degree of concentration of the population across cities in each country – increased in all but 4 out of 17 countries studied over the period 2000-2010.

Across the region, Central Asian countries, as well as Poland and Turkey, appear to be less affected by city population decline, whereas countries like Bulgaria, Albania, and Romania are seeing more than 80% of their cities declining. The rate at which cities are growing or declining also varies substantially within countries, with some presenting distinct spatial patterns.

In Ukraine, for instance, data (collected prior to the ongoing crisis) indicates that most of the cities in the eastern part of the country were declining, which contrasts with the growing trends observed in cities on the western side of the country.

Which Cities are Growing and Which Are Declining?

Data for more than 5,000 cities across Eastern Europe and Central Asia indicates that bigger cities tend to grow more (or decline less) than smaller cities. Capital cities and secondary cities also appear to have an advantage in attracting populations. The degree of economic specialization matters also, with cities that are dominated by one industry or economic sector (often called monotowns) growing much less (or declining much more) than their peers.

Location also matters. Being close to the coast or having a milder winter positively impacts city population growth. However, being closer to other, larger, cities can be detrimental to a city’s ability to attract a population, particularly when located in regions and countries undergoing demographic decline.

Is the decline in city population linked to economic decline? On average, cities that are shrinking in population do perform worse in economic terms than cities that are growing. However, in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, city population decline is not always linked to economic decline. In fact, some of the declining cities are performing at the same level, or better, than growing cities.

Policy Implications

Both growing and declining cities face uniquely challenging environments. Growing cities need to adapt their local infrastructure to ensure that the growing population is well-absorbed and integrated into the city, while avoiding urban sprawl and balancing urban growth beyond administrative boundaries (an increasingly common phenomenon in the region).

In many of the region’s growing cities, the population is moving from city centers – which are at times shrinking – towards suburbs. This suggest that there are issues with housing provision and/or inefficient land-use in those city centers that need to be addressed.  

City population decline has important policy implications at both the national and local level. Decline can often lead to fiscal imbalances, as the revenue base of cities is eroded, while the per capita cost of providing services increases. In addition, given the durable character of housing, decline can lead to housing vacancies, declining housing prices, and urban blight.

While many declining cities across Eastern Europe and Central Asia continue to focus their policy efforts on attracting a growing population, they should instead shift their efforts to better manage their population decline. Shrinking cities are not a new phenomenon, but the region is at an unexplored frontier – which poses both challenges and opportunities for countries as they manage urban development in the years ahead.

“Cities in Eastern Europe and Central Asia: A Story of Urban Growth and Decline is a report developed under the framework of the Global Research Program on Spatial Development of Cities, initiated by the World Bank and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) Growth Research team in 2014

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Urban Development

Athens is the European Capital of Innovation 2018

MD Staff

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The European Commission is awarding Athens the title of the European Capital of Innovation 2018 with a €1 million prize.

Athens (Greece) is the winner of this year’s European Capital of Innovation Awards, funded by the EU research and innovation programme Horizon 2020. The runner-up cities – Aarhus (Denmark), Hamburg (Germany), Leuven (Belgium), Toulouse (France), and Umeå (Sweden) – received €100,000 each. The prize money will be used to scale up local innovation activities and collaborate with other cities.

Carlos Moedas, Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, announced the winning city at the Web Summit in Lisbon: “Cities are beacons of innovation. They act like magnets for talent, for capital, for opportunity. With the European Capital of Innovation, we reward the cities that go the extra mile to test new ideas, technologies and ways to make citizens heard in the way their city is changed”.

Commissioner Moedas added: “Athens stands out as an example that a city facing many challenges can achieve great things. Through innovation, Athens has found new purpose to turn around the economic and social crisis. It is proof that it’s not the difficulties but how you raise yourself above them that matters.”

The City of Athens has placed a lot of importance to innovation and how it can help the local community bring about change and open up to the world. Some of the innovations promoted include:

  • The POLIS² project aimed to revitalise abandoned buildings by providing small grants to residents, small enterprises, creative communities and other civil society groups and bring life to all corners of Athens.
  • The renovation of the Kypseli Public Market, a 90-year old historical building with active support of Athens’ citizens aims to create a new social entrepreneurship market hosting exhibitions, workshops, theatre shows and other initiatives.
  • Making Serafeio, a popular community playground, a host of initiatives like Athens Digital Lab, Open Schools or Athens Culture Net, and a novel events space, following a joint decision by the municipality and the local community.
  • The Curing the Limbo initiative, which gives refugees and migrants the possibility to connect with other residents in order to learn the language, develop new skills, find employment opportunities, and engage in active citizenship.
  • The Digital Council, in which the city brought together companies and educational institutions to offer trainings on digital literacy and civic technology trainings as well as promote sustainable innovations like smart recycling bins.
  • This is Athens‘ campaign where the city invites volunteers to talk about the city’s present and past to some of the record 5 million tourists that visited Athens in 2017.

Background

This year’s European Capital of Innovation contest was launched in February 2018 and opened to cities with over 100,000 inhabitants from EU Member States and countries associated to Horizon 2020. Twenty-six cities from sixteen countries applied. The selection of the winner and the five runner-up cities was made by a high-level independent jury of experts from local administrations, universities, businesses and the non-profit sector. The award criteria – experimenting, engaging, expanding, empowering – analyse how cities use innovation and new technologies to respond to societal challenges engage broad local communities in their decision-making processes and improve lives of their citizens.

The competition first took place in 2014. Past winners include Barcelona (2014), Amsterdam (2016) and Paris (2017). The awards are granted under Horizon 2020, the current EU research and innovation programme with a budget of €77 billion (2014-2020). The next edition of the European Capital of Innovation Awards is planned to be launched in the first quarter of 2019.

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Urban Development

Cities Take Control

MD Staff

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We live in an increasingly urbanized world. Every day, hundreds of people move to cities in search of job opportunities, better services, and infrastructure that can withstand natural phenomenon. Latin America and the Caribbean is the second-most urbanized region in the world and, as cities expand, their challenges also increase. Resilience in the face of disasters, better roads and transportation, more inclusion and access to financing are some of these challenges.

This week, more than 30 mayors and city leaders from around the world met in Buenos Aires to talk about the progress they have made and the obstacles they face, and  especially to discuss how cities – where the largest share of global GDP is produced –  can contribute to the global agenda. We spoke with two experts from the World Bank Group, Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez, Senior Director for the World Bank’s Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Global Practice, and Gabriel Goldschmidt, director of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) for Latin America and the Caribbean, to discuss their vision for the future of cities, their main challenges and how to address them.

Question (Q): Ede, urbanistic discussions have recently focused on resilience. Could you define urban resilience and give us some examples?

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez (EIV): While there is no standard definition for urban resilience, most definitions coincide in that it refers to the capacity to manage a wide range of impacts and stresses that can occur in a city. While resilience has traditionally focused on climate change and its impacts – floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, and volcanic eruptions – it is also the ability of an urban system to prepare and adapt itself to technological and socioeconomic changes.  The former ranges from a breakdown and interruption of the water or energy system of a city, to a gas leak, a water pollution event or an explosion at an industrial plant. Socioeconomic changes refer to economic crises, demographic changes, terrorism events, strikes or social and political conflicts.

Q: In Latin America, eight of every 10 people live in cities, but many of them – the poorest – settle in the outskirts and lack access to basic services. How can we promote social inclusion and improve their quality of life?

EIV: The poor live in both downtown areas and the outskirts. Many of them live near the downtown areas to access jobs, often in informal settlements where the housing is more “accessible,” but in precarious conditions. These settlements often lack quality infrastructure and services. For cities to be inclusive, it is necessary to improve these informal settlements. For example, with support from the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the government of the City of Buenos Aires is working to improve one of its most vulnerable and emblematic neighborhoods, Barrio 31.  On the outskirts, where most urban growth is occurring, cities must urgently adopt a planning process with a view to the future so that they can provide infrastructure and services along with well-located housing at prices that are accessible to the low-income population.

Q: With respect to employment, how can cities prepare for future labor market challenges?

EIV: Cities in the developing world will have to accommodate a growing youth population that will continue to migrate from the countryside to the city. At the same time, cities in the developed world will have to prepare now for migrations of youth populations from less developed countries, which will accompany the aging of the countries’ own inhabitants. Migrations of people in search of opportunities, displacement due to conflict and violence, as well as an increased incidence and intensity of natural disasters associated with climate change, will increase the size of cities.  At the same time, new technologies present challenges and opportunities for employment. While automation will replace many jobs, it will create new opportunities for others. New technologies have the potential to change the way people travel to work and transform complex markets such as that of real estate. Cities should work together with national governments to develop national urban policies that integrate local sector policies, rethink labor market and job training policies, and use those same technologies to manage cities.

Q: What role should development institutions such as the World Bank play, as well as city mayors, who have an increasingly key role in the future of the urban agenda at the global level?

EIV: Mayors are key players in the development of the global agenda. As cities concentrate the majority of inhabitants, and as they produce the largest share of GDP and greenhouse gas emissions, they are centers where the future of the world’s sustainability will be played out.  Even though this is obvious, cities have not been considered enough in the process to establish the global agenda. Local leaders and mayors have very interesting experiences to bring to the table; the expert knowledge they have of urban problems and their proximity to the population they represent make them key actors for developing alternative, creative solutions to the most complex global problems. For this reason, the World Bank, together with other multilateral agencies, is committed to helping cities promote the exchange of knowledge among them and with national leaders. Likewise, the World Bank is well-positioned to help municipal governments take measures to promote investment in projects that improve the population’s quality of life.

The private sector, a key actor in urban development

Q: Gabriel, transforming cities is expensive. National and local governments have limited resources and high fiscal pressures. How can the private sector be persuaded to help cover the infrastructure deficit in Latin America, which according to some estimates is US$ 180 billion?

Gabriel Goldschmidt (GG): Cities are important centers of investment and economic growth. However, most cities in Latin America and the Caribbean have not grown in a sustainable way in recent decades. In a context of limited public budgets, it is important to consider mechanisms that can  attract private-sector participation while maintaining the objective of improving the quality of life of the population.

City governments cannot do this alone: the needs are simply too great. Innovation and investment of the private sector are crucial for addressing the complex challenges of cities in key areas such as infrastructure, climate change and job creation.  Where private-sector solutions exist, but are limited by weaknesses in the regulatory framework, the public sector and other players that should work together to create policies that enable the development of private-sector proposals. Finally, governments should reserve their limited fiscal budgets to invest in solutions for which there is no private-sector alternative.

For example, for the past 15 years, IFC has invested more than US$ 12 billion in 350 urban projects and advisory services in more than 60 countries, contributing to creating sustainable, competitive cities that attract the necessary private investment for inclusive growth and poverty reduction. Currently,  IFC is working throughout the region with cities as diverse as Buenos Aires, Bogota, Barranquilla, Lima, Tegucigalpa and, soon, San Jose.

Q: How can these ideas of financing and innovation be leveraged to create more inclusive cities?

GG: Well-structured, well-managed private-public partnerships can contribute innovation, efficiency and financing of the private sector in a single package. Bogota has two interesting examples of public-private partnerships. IFC is supporting the city in the development of these partnerships in the health sector for the building of hospitals, something that is highly innovative. The public-private partnership model for educational institutions is also being supported in Medellin and Barranquilla.

Green bonds are another tool that cities can use to attract commercial financing for sustainable projects. Cities are responsible for more than 80% of greenhouse gas emissions in the region. Currently, buildings generate 19% of the greenhouse gases associated with energy and consume 40% of electricity worldwide. Fortunately, many cities are proactively promoting sustainable infrastructure. IFC works with municipalities to implement green building codes. With the banking industry, it facilitates financing of sustainable projects while with real estate developers it supports the adoption of international sustainability certificates for buildings. For example, the EDGE certification, which was created by IFC, requires savings of at least 20% of water and energy and has been implemented in a variety of structures, including accessible housing.

Finally, land value capture is a way for municipalities to recover the value that public infrastructure generates (for example, property taxes, land improvement taxes and others).

World Bank

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Urban Development

Creating Smart Cities for Innovative Tourism Experiences

MD Staff

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The UNWTO Conference on City Breaks: Creating Innovative Tourism Experiences (15-16 October 2018) concluded today in Valladolid, Spain, with a call for cities to become smart tourism destinations, where tourism governance and the digital economy mesh together to offer travellers diverse and authentic experiences.

The conference brought together tourism leaders from the public and private sectors to analyse how to respond to the growing trend of city breaks as leisure experiences. They concluded that public-private partnerships, the inclusion of local communities and the creation of smart destinations are crucial for urban destinations to gain the knowledge and define the policies they need in order to respond to the new demands of hyper-connected and hyper-informed tourists.

“We must understand the evolution of tourists towards greater sustainability and inclusiveness, using new technological tools,” said Jaime Cabal, Deputy Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). “Creativity and innovation are needed when designing the experiences they are increasingly demanding.”

The Councillor for Culture and Tourism of Valladolid, Ana Maria Redondo, echoed this call, adding: “We need a better understanding of the fundamentals behind the current demand for city break experiences. Smart destination tools are our means to obtain this knowledge.”

The Deputy Director-General for Tourism Development and Sustainability of the Ministry of Tourism of Spain, Ruben Lopez Pulido, suggested that cities and all destinations change their models of tourism development to respond not only the most demanding tourists, but also to the rise of the digital and knowledge economy. “Being a smart destination is not just a label, but a process towards the comprehensive transformation of destinations, while always aiming at the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals,” he said.

Speakers at the conference included Dieter Hardt-Stremayr, President of European Cities Marketing and CEO of the Graz Tourism Office in Austria, who described what he considered key challenges for the growth of city breaks: transportation issues, seasonality, and the dispersion of tourism demand within a city and over time. “Our main challenge is to attract visitors to come right at this moment. To overcome it destination managers should focus on parts of the tourism offer that are ‘temporary’,” he concluded.

The main conclusions of the conference referred to urban tourism governance models. Participants highlighted that, with the growth of high-speed, low-cost transportation links that provide more and more visitors with access to city breaks, city destinations must respond by prioritizing investments that benefit residents and tourists alike.

They also concluded that with the technological advances that allow the creation of smart destinations, destination management organizations must shift their focus from only promoting the experiences available for tourists in cities, to managing urban tourism in all its complexity. For their part, tourism policy makers should use smart destination tools to study the impact of tourism on the profitability and sustainability of a city, and place the destination at the centre of policy changes. These conclusions will be taken into account in the UNWTO work plan on urban tourism.

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