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Urban Development

Innovation and imagination: The keys to a sustainable urban future

MD Staff

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What makes a city more resilient? In a world faced with the twin challenges of increasing urbanization and climate change, it is paramount to re-think cities so that they are able to face the pressures these changes will bring.

According to the latest report from the International Resources Panel, the future of our cities will depend on their level of resource efficiency and how they are planned, connected and governed.

The Panel’s full report, The weight of cities: Resource requirements of future urbanization, will be released today at the 9th Global Forum on Urban Resilience and Adaptation in Bonn, Germany. (A summary for policy-makers was released in February.)

The report calls for substantial changes in urban form, governance and design, each of which require re-thinking of how cities are created and developed, and in some cases replacing social, economic and political practices.

“We must rethink the way in which we urbanize,” said Panel member Maarten Hajer, co-lead author of the report and Distinguished Professor of Urban Futures at Utrecht University, Netherlands. “City networks constitute a great opportunity for city governments to collaborate and learn from each other. Our report shows we can achieve an urban form that is both socially and ecologically sustainable. Yet the challenge is massive.”

According to ICLEI – the global network of more than 1,500 cities, towns and regions committed to building a sustainable future and the organizers of the Global Forum – a resilient city is defined as one that “is prepared to absorb and recover from any shock or stress while maintaining its essential functions, structures, and identity as well as adapting and thriving in the face of continual change.” Building resilience, the network says, requires identifying and assessing risks, reducing vulnerability, preparing for emergencies, and increasing cities’ capacities to adapt to change.

The Panel’s report supports resilience by encouraging cities to make optimum use of their resources, so as to avoid the risks associated with putting unsustainable burdens on agriculture, energy, industry and transport.

The report recommends:

  • Monitoring the flow of natural resources entering and leaving a city; doing so can help cities develop strategies to manage their resources more efficiently.
  • Establishing a new model for city governance and politics that supports imaginative business propositions and experimentation.
  • Planning a city to have:
    • Compact growth, to economize on the asphalt, concrete, electricity and water consumed in urban sprawl.
    • Better connections through efficient, affordable public transport.
    • Liveable neighbourhoods where design and small city-block size encourage people to walk or cycle.
  • Designing in resource-efficient components such as car sharing, charging point networks for electric vehicles, efficient energy, water and waste systems, smart grids, cycle paths, energy-efficient building, and new heating, cooling and lighting technologies.
  • Developing infrastructure to take advantage of cross-sector efficiency, such as using waste heat from industry in district energy systems, and industrial waste in construction, such as in fly-ash bricks.

In the next 30 years, 2.4 billion people are likely to move to urban areas, bringing the proportion of the global population living in cities by 2050 to 66 per cent.

The annual amount of natural resources used by urban areas is expected to grow from 40 billion tonnes in 2010 to 90 billion tonnes in 2050, an increase of 125 per cent, if changes are not made to how cities are built and designed.

The report calls for a new strategy to meet the needs of 21st century urbanization, and includes recommendations that could result in low-carbon, resource-efficient, socially just cities in which people can live healthy lives.

UN Environment

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Urban Development

Global forum on cities highlights need for sustainable development

MD Staff

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If cities like Delhi, Lagos, Sao Paolo and Tokyo seem populated today, think what they’ll be like by 2050. The United Nations predicts that by then, 2.5 billion more people will be living in urban centres, making two out of every three people city dwellers.

Cities are hubs for cultural, scientific and economic development, but they can also be stark reminders of the environmental and socio-economic challenges we face. Today, cities are responsible for some 70 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions and consume 75 per cent of the world’s energy and resources. As the human population continues to grow and the planet faces unprecedented threats from climate change, there is a critical need for sustainable urban planning.

The tenth World Urban Forum (WUF)—the foremost international gathering on sustainable urbanization established by the United Nations—focused on the intersection of culture and innovation to address emerging urban challenges.

“Environment is a golden thread connecting culture and innovation, the theme of this year’s World Urban Forum,” said Martina Otto, head of the Cities Unit at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). “Just as addressing climate change must become part of the conservation strategies for our heritage buildings, so must we find inspiration in traditions, be it traditional building techniques or urban form to build the cities of the future. Through innovation, we can create the pathways to make our cities zero carbon, resource efficient and resilient.”

A number of UNEP personnel attended the WUF to showcase ongoing work and projects. One example was the launch of what’s being called the world’s largest real-time air quality databank.

Another project featured was the Law and Climate Change toolkit.

UNEP and UN-Habitat have a longstanding cooperation in the area of sustainable urbanization, implemented through different projects—the latest being the Greener Cities Partnership. The joint mission reflects UN-Habitat’s take on compact, integrated and connected cities and UNEP’s work on cities as a force to achieve a decarbonizing and eco-decoupling economy.

Separately, UNEP supports cities across the world in addressing climate impacts and integrating the environment into their long-term urban planning through three priority areas: economy, nature-based adaptation, and climate and pollution action.

Given the resource surge linked to urban development, cities have a primary role in moving from a take-make-dispose economy to a circular model, where materials and products are kept in use for as long as possible at their highest value. Using their jurisdiction, cities can embed circularity principles into their planning decisions and policies.

Similarly, urban development and particularly sprawl are a driver for habitat loss, impacting the very ecosystems, city residents depend on. Nature-based solutions such as mangroves can be a cost-effective solution to dealing with floods and coastal erosion while also improving air quality.

It’s no secret that cities produce a lot of air and water pollution, both impacting their livability and the health of their citizens. By placing permits for industrial activities and construction, introducing low emission zones, switching to district energy and bettering water and wastewater management practices, cities can reduce their pollution output while also improving quality of life.

UN Environment

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Urban Development

Designing Gender-Inclusive Cities that Work for All

MD Staff

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Modern cities are designed BY MEN and FOR MEN, thereby limiting women’s access to economic and social development, according a new World Bank publication launched today at the World Urban Forum (WUF10)

The Handbook for Gender-Inclusive Urban Planning and Design makes the point that with women occupying just 10 percent of the highest-ranking jobs at the world’s leading architecture firms, cities have historically been planned and designed to reflect traditional gender roles and gendered division of labor. As a result, cities work better for men than they do for women.

“Men, women, gender minorities, and people of different abilities tend to use the public space in different ways,” stressed Sameh Wahba, World Bank Global Director for Urban, Disaster Risk Management, Resilience, and Land.  “We all have different needs and routines when it comes to our access to the city. However, if the city is built for the ‘neutral’ male user, it neglects the needs, interests, and routines of women, girls, and sexual and gender minorities in the city. This has enormous impacts on women’s access to jobs or schools, on their freedoms and safety, as well as their health and agency, and it reinforces gender inequalities.”

There are six issue areas in the built environment that combine with gender inequity to constrain, inconvenience, and even endanger women, girls, and sexual and gender minorities of all ages and abilities:

Access – using services and spaces in the public realm, free from constraints and barriers

Mobility – moving around the city safely, easily, and affordably

Safety and freedom from violence – being free from real and perceived danger in public and private spheres

Health and hygiene – leading an active lifestyle that is free from health risks in the built environment

Climate resilience – being able to prepare for, respond to, and cope with the immediate and long-term effects of disaster

Security of tenure – accessing and owning land and housing to live, work, and build wealth and agency

“Urban planning and design shape the environment around us – and that environment, in turn, shapes how we live, work, play, move, and rest,” said Maitreyi Das, Manager of the World Bank’s Urban, Disaster Risk Management, Resilience, and Land Global Practice.  “In general, cities work better for heterosexual, able-bodied, cisgender men than they do for women, girls, sexual and gender minorities, and people with disabilities.  Faced with challenges ranging from transportation services that prioritize commuting over caregiving, to the lack of lighting and toilets in public spaces, many women, girls, and sexual and gender minorities around the world feel inconvenienced, ill-at-ease, and unsafe in the urban environment.”

Although the World Bank and other institutions are firmly committed to advancing gender equality, oftentimes urban planners, project managers, and practitioners lack awareness of the importance of prioritizing gender in the urban design process, and do not have the specific, on-the-ground knowledge or tools to effectively implement gender-inclusive strategies.

To address this, the Handbook encourages gender-inclusive planning and design, which actively includes the voice of women, girls, and sexual and gender minorities.  The publication seeks to fill the clear gap between policy and practice, intention and action, by showing why and how to incorporate gender inclusion into urban planning and design.

The Handbook sets out practical approaches, activities, and design guidelines that show how to do this – how to implement a participatory and inclusive design process that explores the experiences and uses of the city from the perspective of all citizen: women, men, and sexual and gender and other minorities.

It also gives clear, specific design guidelines, appropriate for and adaptable to all regions, for a range of planning fields, including housing, public transport and mobility infrastructure, other infrastructure services, and city master plans. 

The Handbook is written for practitioners and planners who are looking for practicable tools and activities to engage people of all genders in design and planning. It focuses on both the process of planning and the final product: the project. The aim is to design cities that work for everyone.

The Handbook was co-authored by Kounkuey Design Initiative (KDI), a nonprofit community development and design firm that centers inclusive, participatory approaches.

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Urban Development

Investing in Public Spaces to Achieve Livable Cities for All

MD Staff

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Many cities around the world are missing out on significant development opportunities by ignoring, under-leveraging, or mismanaging public spaces. There is an enormous opportunity for smarter use of public spaces, to unlock the “hidden” value they create for communities, neighborhoods, and entire cities, according to a new World Bank publication launched today at the World Urban Forum (WUF10)

The publication, The Hidden Wealth of Cities: Creating, Financing, and Managing Public Spaces, says that well-conceived, people-centered urban public spaces have vast potential to become assets that cities can leverage to transform the quality of urban life and improve city functioning.

“Globally, about one-third of a city’s land area is covered by public spaces–ranging from city streets, neighborhood squares and parks, to public facilities, such as libraries and markets. This is significant,” said Sameh Wahba, World Bank Global Director for Urban, Disaster Risk Management, Resilience, and Land.  “Sustainably planning, financing, and managing public spaces with a focus on people is key to unleashing cities’ potential for building livable, resilient, and competitive cities for all.”

According to the book, city governments often do not invest in the creation and management of good-quality public spaces due to poor and ad hoc urban planning, budgetary constraints, and other pressing priorities arising from rapid urbanization. As a result, public spaces often become liabilities, creating a downward spiral that drains public resources and exacerbates various city problems.

Jon Kher Kaw, World Bank Senior Urban Specialist and lead author of the publication, highlighted the other end of the spectrum, “Cities that successfully create and manage great public spaces and places  buck this trend. They reap the rewards from the enormous value that is created, including the environmental and social benefits that go beyond economic gains.”

Kaw added that “Public spaces are especially good arenas for creativity and collaboration between governments, the private sector, and citizens for creating vibrant and inclusive neighborhoods and districts.”

The publication urges cities to adopt imaginative and effective strategies to create, finance, and manage public spaces, prioritizing their value for people, communities, and places. These strategies should focus on three major areas:

Stakeholders and partnerships: create public spaces for and with communities, and recognize the need for strong partnerships between governments, private sector actors, and citizens.

Policies, planning, and design: adopt effective planning policies, placemaking approaches, and innovative design solutions that ensure the equitable distribution, inclusion and access, and quality of public-space networks across the city.

Management, governance, and finance: implement sustainable financial, management, and governance models across the entire public-space asset life cycle, from their initial creation, implementation, maintenance and to their renewal.

The publication notes that it is through these strategies that public spaces–whether on the streets, within infrastructure spaces and public facilities, or in open and green areas–can yield returns on investment far exceeding the monetary costs.

Building on more than 20 city case studies from around the globe, the publication illustrates how successful public spaces help cities strengthen social cohesion and sense of place; promote urban health and citizen well-bring; build urban resilience; support the local economy and livelihoods; spur urban regeneration and entrepreneurship; and attract further investments into urban neighborhoods.

Download the publication to read the case studies and learn how city leaders, policymakers, and urban practitioners can better plan, finance, and manage both government- and privately-owned public spaces to achieve livable cities for all.

The Hidden Wealth of Cities: Creating, Financing, and Managing Public Spaces received support from UN-Habitat, European Space Agency (Earth Observation for Sustainable Development initiative), Centre for Liveable Cities (Singapore), Korea Research Institute for Human Settlements, and Korea Green Growth Trust Fund (KGGTF).

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