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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).

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Urban Development

Cities rally against hate, discrimination, racism and violent extremism

MD Staff

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Local governments are and should continue to be key global actors and “co-shapers of a global framework for action” to address current worldwide challenges related to social transformations, together with national governments, international and regional institutions, and civil society. In this context, the Global Steering Committee of the International Coalition of Inclusive and Sustainable Cities – ICCAR adopted the “Nancy Declaration” at its meeting in Nancy (France), on 10 December 2018, in parallel with the City’s celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Led by Mayor Laurent Hénart of Nancy, Mayor Erias Lukwago of Kampala (Uganda) and Benedetto Zacchiroli (President of the European Coalition of Cities against Racism –  ECCAR), mayors and other local officials representing regional and national coalitions charted and adopted this new roadmap for action for ICCAR member cities. The Nancy Declaration calls for renewed commitment to “develop effective responses to the rise of hate, bigotry and violent extremism, growing worldwide phenomena that accentuate racism, intolerance and discrimination, by implementing local and collective advocacy efforts to raise awareness, developing guidelines and tools in response to these threats, and conducting capacity-building and education-related initiatives”.

Ângela Melo, Director of Policies and Programmes of UNESCO’s Social and Human Sciences Programme, affirmed in her opening remarks that there is an urgent need to rethink the role of cities, to provide them with the means to promote inclusion and respect for diversity, and to ensure that they become green, inclusive and smart. A human rights-based approach should be the foundation of preventing and fighting discrimination through promoting inclusion and diversity framed on the 2030 international agenda of the sustainable development goals.  

Held at the same time as the Intergovernmental Conference on the Global Compact for Migration (Morocco, 10-11 December 2018), the ICCAR meeting, organized by UNESCO and the City of Nancy, with the support of ECCAR, served as the “common voice” of its member cities. It concurred to “take action in line with the UN Global Compacts on migration and refugees to eliminate prejudice by highlighting the positive and multiple contributions of these groups to all spheres of life in receiving, transition and origin countries.”

The International Coalition of Inclusive and Sustainable Cities – ICCAR was launched by UNESCO in 2004. Represented by seven regional and national coalitions, ICCAR is a 500-plus member network of cities across continents. They advocate for global solidarity and collaboration to promote inclusive urban development free from all forms of discrimination. Over the years, the recognition of ICCAR has increased as a global reference for city-to-city cooperation in the pursuit of inclusion and diversity in the urban space.

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Urban Development

How South-South and Triangular cooperation can promote green growth and sustainable cities

MD Staff

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As part of the Global South-South Development Expo 2018, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) convened a thematic solution forum on sustainable urban-industrial development along the Belt and Road.

The forum, building on the outcomes of UNIDO’s flagship BRIDGE for Cities event, focused on how green growth and sustainable cities can be promoted through South-South and Triangular cooperation. It was attended by a high-level audience consisting of representatives from Member States, UN agencies, development finance institutions and the private sector, as well as from civil society and academia.

The moderator of the forum, GONG Weixi, who is Senior Coordinator for South-South and Triangular Industrial Cooperation at UNIDO, introduced the theme by referring to the fact that more than 50 per cent of the world’s population currently lives in cities. He suggested that dealing with urban issues will have a direct impact on poverty reduction and on ensuring quality of life around the world.

The panellists, who included Carlo Fortuna from the Central European Initiative; Sabine Ohler, Director of International Business at the Vienna Business Agency;  Rohey Malick Lowe, Major of Banjul, Gambia; and Mohammad Mustafizur Rahman from Bangladesh’s  Ministry of Information Communications Technologies Division; remarked that while the GSSD Expo makes an extremely valuable contribution to linkage and learning, it is up to developing countries themselves to leverage the success stories and lessons learnt, and that they should take ownership of their development strategies.

There was also agreement that while foreign investments and technology transfer are essential in the development process, South-South cooperation is a process that cannot be forced. It should deliver mutual benefits for all parties, while respecting their national sovereignty.

Gong said, “As the key take-away for this session, the ‘catch-up’ strategy for developing countries to develop through their own efforts is ‘3L’ – linkage, learning, and leverage. The forum today provides us with a platform to link with and learn from all development stakeholders. Ultimately, it is the engagement and ownership of developing countries themselves that can ensure development results.”

The Global South-South Development Expo is the only Expo offered by the United Nations system solely for the Global South. It provides a platform for all development actors and stakeholders to showcase Southern development solutions, celebrate South-South and triangular cooperation successes, share knowledge and lessons learned, explore new avenues for collaboration, and initiate new partnership efforts.

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Urban Development

ADB Report Shares Best Practices in Chinese Cities to Combat Climate Change

MD Staff

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Cities in developing Asia and the Pacific are growing fast, but this surge in urbanization has led to increasing pollution and environmental concerns, threatening to impact the quality of people’s lives. Innovative climate solutions in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), however, are demonstrating that it is possible for cities to pursue growth in a low-carbon and climate-resilient manner, according to a new Asian Development Bank (ADB) report.

The report, 50 Climate Solutions from Cities in the People’s Republic of China: Best Practices from Cities Taking Action on Climate Change, highlights case studies where cities in the PRC have embraced means of ensuring more sustainable and climate-resilient growth. Some of these solutions include reducing energy consumption, improving waste management, promoting green spaces, as well as introducing clean-fuel vehicles and public transport.

“Climate change could severely impact developing Asia and the Pacific’s economic growth in the decades to come if no action is taken,” said ADB Deputy Director General for East Asia Ms. M. Teresa Kho at the launch of the report in Beijing. “Actions taken in many cities in the PRC show that it is certainly possible to start to turn the wheel around on climate change and its impacts. Other countries could well find useful lessons from the PRC’s experience.”

The city of Hohhot in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, for example, is taking advantage of the area’s abundant wind resources to use renewable energy sources for district heating. The project, supported by a $150 million ADB loan and a technical assistance grant, has helped the residents enjoy cleaner air, while reduce health hazards due to toxic air pollutants due to the city’s previous reliance on coal.

About 50 hectares of old landfills in the city of Wuhan in central PRC, meanwhile, have been transformed into gardens for residents to enjoy, lessening health risks and environmental hazards from the untreated sites.

Other climate action efforts mentioned in the report include a market-based emissions trading scheme in Shanghai, which has seen 100% compliance since its launch in 2013, and the rollout of electric taxis in the city of Taiyuan in Shanxi province, which will help reduce 222,000 tons of carbon emissions per year once the full fleet of traditional taxis is replaced.

The report, which includes details of projects supported by ADB and others, is part of ADB’s aim to support the PRC government’s efforts to address climate change and showcase its innovations in low-carbon city development. ADB is committing $80 billion from 2019 to 2030 to combat climate change in the Asia and Pacific region, while ensuring that at least 75% of its committed operations support climate change mitigation and adaptation.

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