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Urban Development

Innovation and imagination: The keys to a sustainable urban future

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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

Making space for pedestrians and cyclists in Zambian cities

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Zambia, a landlocked country in southern Africa, is home to over 16 million people. It is one of the most urbanized countries on continent, with 44 per cent of the population concentrated around a few major cities in the south-central and northwest of the country: Lusaka, the capital, and the Copperbelt Province, a major economic hub.

The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) and UN Environment are developing a non-motorized transport strategy for Zambia in partnership with a series of stakeholders, including the Ministry of Transport and Communications, the Ministry of Local Government, and the United Nations Development Programme. Building on Zambia’s National Transport Policy, the strategy will lay out a roadmap for government action to improve the walking and cycling environment, and catalyze investment in non-motorized transport.

Efficient mobility is critical to the prosperity of Zambia’s cities. Despite low car ownership, Lusaka experiences severe traffic congestion, making it difficult for residents to access economic and educational opportunities. The majority of trips in Lusaka are made by foot, followed by public transport, and with only around ten percent of trips made by car. Unfortunately, as is common in cities around the world, the priorities on the street do not serve the needs of the majority.

To this end, the Ministry of Transport and Communications, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, and UN Environment organized a stakeholder workshop entitled “Making Zambia a walking & cycling-friendly nation” on 24 May 2018 at the Government Complex in Lusaka. The event attracted over sixty participants from all over the country, including senior national government officials, engineers from the Road Development Agency and local authorities, public transport operators, the commuter association, the United Nations Development Programme, donor agencies, practitioners, civil society organizations and journalists.

The workshop provided an opportunity to share information on ongoing non-motorized transport initiatives and share best practices in providing safe, sustainable and equitable transport systems. The event served to sensitize stakeholders, create ownership and stimulate support for the Zambia non-motorized transport strategy. The srategy was discussed in detail to gather input from the participants.

Nicholas Chikwenya, Deputy Director, Transport, Ministry of Transport and Communications, delivered a thought-provoking keynote address highlighting key transport challenges resulting from population growth and rapid urbanization in Zambia. Chikwenya challenged Zambian engineers to design and implement safe, sustainable road infrastructure that serves the needs of all, especially the majority of road users who walk, cycle or use public transport. Citing the large number of road crashes affecting pedestrians and cyclists, he made a strong case for the Zambia non-motorized transport strategy as a step forward toward improving road safety.

Over recent years, the Government of Zambia has begun to invest significant sums in road infrastructure through projects such as the L400 initiative in Lusaka and the Ndola road improvement project. Yet poor designs and enforcement have contributed to a major human and economic toll. According to the Zambia Road Safety Trust, the country experienced 32,392 crashes in 2014, resulting in the deaths of 1,858 people. In Lusaka, over half of the victims are pedestrians and cyclists—the most vulnerable road users.

One of the most important projects over the coming years in Zambia will be the Lusaka Decongestion Project. Civil society stakeholders such as the Zambia Road Safety Trust have called on the government to ensure that pedestrian and cycle improvements form the core of the plan.

Promising initiatives are leading the way to a safer environment for pedestrians and cyclists in Zambian cities. During a recent visit, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy met with the city government of Kitwe, where Mayor Christopher Kang’ombe launched the Pave Kitwe project to build high-quality pedestrian walkways. The mayor has secured private sector funds to cover the cost of materials, while the city government supplies the labour.

In Lusaka, the non-governmental organization Amend is working with schools and city authorities to implement safe slow-speed zones in school areas. These improvements have included new paving of footpaths, drainage, tabletop pedestrian crossings, signage and road markings.

Over the coming months, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, and UN Environment will continue work with stakeholders to gather input for the non-motorized transport strategy, with consideration to vulnerable groups, especially children, the elderly and persons with disabilities.

UN Environment

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Urban Development

Athens is the European Capital of Innovation 2018

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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

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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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