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Urban Development

Rethink Cities to Help Asia Make the Most of Urbanization

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Cities have always played a central role in economic development by bringing workers and entrepreneurs together, spurring innovation, and sharing resources including infrastructure more efficiently. This should be good news for developing Asia: by 2050, there is projected to be 2.96 billion people living in the region’s towns and cities – 64% of all the entire population – up from 1.84 billion – or 46% of the population – in 2017.

Unfortunately, while the region’s cities are sure to grow in size, they may fail to fulfill their potential as engines of growth and job creation due to underinvestment in urban infrastructure, a lack of affordable housing, and unsynchronized spatial and economic planning. 

What are policymakers to do?

First, they must achieve a more accurate and granular understanding of how their countries are urbanizing. New data sources are needed because official statistics often fail to capture the true urban footprint of cities since they rely on municipal boundaries drawn decades ago, for example.  Satellite imagery, however, shows clearly that developing Asia’s cities are expanding without regard to those boundaries, forming what we call “natural cities”. Our study, Fostering Growth and Inclusion in Asia’s Cities tracked almost 1,460 natural cities across developing Asia, with many of them in the People’s Republic of China (680 natural cities), India (320), and Indonesia (93).  Further, cities are merging to form integrated urban agglomerations; 476 natural cities that were separate in 1992 had linked up to form 124 city clusters by 2016, the largest being the Shanghai-centered city cluster, home to 91.5 million people, and encompassing a total of 53 natural cites, including Nanjing and Hangzhou, in the Yangtze River Delta area.

Urban expansion and formation of a city cluster in the Yangtze River Delta Area

Source: Asian Development Bank. 2019. Asian Development Outlook 2019 Update: Fostering Growth and Inclusion in Asia’s Cities. Manila.

This means urban planning cannot simply stop at the city limits. Efficient transport networks that extend from neighborhoods to workplaces prevent fragmentation of a city’s labor market. 

Similarly, as cities cluster, decisions on where to place vital infrastructure, such as water treatment and solid waste facilities, transport hubs, green spaces, and industrial parks require coordinated decision-making among local government units. Unfortunately, companies operating in city clusters are now significantly more likely than those in stand-alone cities to complain about infrastructure and regulatory bottlenecks. 

Second, policymakers must think of cities as labor markets.  To be sure, cities are much more than places of work. However, they cannot thrive unless they function well for both enterprises and workers.  This requires that travel within the city or city cluster is fast and cheap, that firms and households can easily relocate from one part of a city to another, and that real estate is affordable.

 Asian cities need to do a lot on these fronts.  Tests using Google Maps in 278 natural cities show considerable congestion during peak travel times in many large cities, such as Metro Manila, Dhaka, and Bengaluru.  Moreover, in 199 of the cities a full quarter of the surveyed trips could not be made by public transport at all, while for the other three quarters, travel by public transport including walking to and from the transport hub was three times longer than by car. 

This clearly shows that Asian cities must invest much more in efficient public transport if businesses are to attract workers and flourish. The transport system must combine trains, buses, taxis, ride sharing, and less formal services like jeepneys and autorickshaws—but regulating them well—to improve mobility. 

Affordable homes are also critical to attract workers, keep them as their skills and families grow, and then allow them to easily shift to other jobs. However, our analysis showed that that home prices are well beyond the means of median-income households in more than 90% of cities. What is needed to tackle that is a combination of demand-side and supply-side policies, including reassessment of land use regulations that might be inadvertently restricting the supply of real estate. 

Finally, growth requires vibrancy in all types of cities. Cities are connected to one another, and to the rural hinterland, through flows of goods, services, and people.  Robust and balanced national economic growth depends also on mid-sized cities and even market towns that specialize in distributing agricultural produce.  

This requires investment in efficient inter-city transport. Given competing demands on public funding, large cities should draw more on private sector funding. Such cities have an edge in attracting private investment because the agglomeration economies they generate promise high returns to those who choose to locate there. Allocations of public funds must follow the people.  Many medium-sized cities in the region with populations of 1–5 million and some smaller cities with populations of half a million still attract migrants.  Public investment should support that. 

Asia’s steady urbanization represents an unprecedented chance for the region to ensure robust long-term growth and the creation of good jobs.  Policymakers must not let the opportunity slip through their hands by neglecting their cities. 

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Urban Development

Moscow joins the G20 Smart Cities Alliance project for responsible adoption of digital technologies

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Moscow has been selected as one of the pilot regions to implement the global policy roadmap for the responsible use of digital technologies. Cooperation with members of the G20 Smart Cities Alliance will allow Moscow to share its accumulated experience and analyze the world’s best practices in the use of digital technologies.

The Russian capital will become a member of the G20 Smart Cities Alliance project, which, as part of the development of digital infrastructure, will cooperate in developing common principles and approaches in the areas of information security and personal data protection, increasing the availability of urban infrastructure and electronic services for people with disabilities developing broadband communication networks and open data infrastructure.

37 megacities, including Barcelona, ​​Bogota, Brasilia, Buenos Aires, London, Lisbon, Manila, Melbourne, Mexico City, Milan, San Jose, Istanbul and others, will work on the roadmap of the G20 Smart Cities Alliance. The community involves authorities, international organizations in the field of IT regulation, experts not only from the G20 countries, but also cities interested in digitalization of territories.

The International Smart Cities Alliance was formed in 2019. The organization aims to create international norms and rules for the responsible use of advanced technologies.

Department of Information Technologies of Moscow

The Department of Information Technologies of Moscow (DIT) has been rapidly developing and actively growing for the past 5 years. During these years we have created over a thousand systems and services and we are pursuing the target of launching around 300 new projects annually. Today, we are proud of having digitalized over 166 state services, this is obviously more than any other region of Russia. Moreover, within the last years we have created an outstanding number of 178 portals, including the official Mayor and Government of Moscow web-site “mos.ru”. Our systems cover over 60 industries and penetrate into each aspect of

Moscow citizens’ everyday lives, our products and services include:

  • Electronic queue for Civil registry office;
  • Arrangement of remote medical appointments;
  • Personalelectronicmedicalrecords;
  • Children assignment to kindergardens/schools/extracurricular activities;
  • Providing schools with cutting edge technological equipment;
  • Obtaining references, enquiries and services remotely;
  • Numerous projects in housing and public amenities, starting from telemetrics and
  • Energetics to the possibility of submitting water usage information.

Current structure of the Department distinguishes up to 30 unique products and programs, including medical and education systems informatization, creation of crowdsourcing platforms, development of various resources and portals for Moscow and its citizens. We are aimed at continuing the process of effective informatization of the city with an emphasis on innovation development and advanced technologies application.

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Urban Development

Cities at Centre of International Initiative to Add Jobs and Protect the Planet

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Cities are engines of growth, contributing some 80% to global GDP, but they also account for 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Even in a post-COVID-19 future, urbanization is expected to grow. Cities, suburbs and the global infrastructure system have a great impact on nature, yet their role in protecting biodiversity loss and mitigating climate change has been underestimated, until now.

To help transform cities into engines of economic growth compatible with planetary and human well-being, the World Economic Forum is collaborating with the government of Colombia and the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Research on Biological Resources on a new global initiative, BiodiverCities by 2030. This initiative will help cities around the world unlock opportunities for urban growth while protecting the environment.

In order to shape a nature-positive future, the initiative is curating a high-level commission of 25 world-renowned experts and practitioners from government, the private sector, academia and civil society. The Global Commission on BiodiverCities by 2030 will build a shared, framework and forward-looking perspective on the BiodiverCities concept.

The publicly accessible framework will outline how cities can shift from the current untenable relationship with rural areas and natural resource assets towards a more nature-positive model, which, research indicates, can add jobs to the economy. On the back of this knowledge framework, the initiative will also build on the Forum’s Strategic Intelligence platform and on a community of innovators and entrepreneurs in close partnership with the World Economic Forum’s UpLink platform.

As President Duque stated, “Colombia is the world’s most biodiverse country by square kilometer, and we have the challenge and the responsibility to protect nature in cities while improving people’s wellbeing. We are excited to partner with the World Economic Forum and key international actors to help shape a much-needed global agenda on BiodiverCities. Building on our produce while conserving and conserve while producing policy, we are eager to both share Colombian cities’ efforts and experiences, and to learn from valuable international knowledge and best practices.”

Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, said: “COVID-19’s impact is a stark reminder of our imbalance with the natural world. As cities face the enormous task of recovering from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, BiodiverCities by 2030 aims to show how nature-positive cities can offer transformative opportunities for the benefit of people, planet, health and livelihoods. We greatly look forward to working with the President of Colombia and other partners on this important global initiative and connecting with a community of experts, mayors and policy-makers.”

Research shows that nature-positive solutions, or those that add value back into nature, can create healthier and more resilient cities while generating $3 trillion in business opportunities and creating 117 million jobs. “Cities can be cooler in the summer, have cleaner air and be better protected against flooding if we can put nature at the heart of its development model,” said Akanksha Khatri, Head of the Nature Action Agenda, World Economic Forum.

At the World Economic Forum’s Sustainable Development Impact Summit 2020, and during the United Nations General Assembly meeting, President Duque called for a broader effort to advance cities and sustainable development through a “BiodiverCities” approach.

A network of nine Colombian cities, including Barranquilla as one of the initial pilots, aims to include biodiversity in their urban development models and to promote the interaction of citizens with nature. The Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development of Colombia is leading efforts to pilot this initiative with support by the World Resources Institute and the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Research on Biological Resources.

BiodiverCities by 2030 comes at a vital moment. The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged assumptions about work, transportation and city living; and, nature-positive cities can offer transformative opportunities for the benefit of people, planet, health and livelihoods.This new global initiative and partnership between the World Economic Forum and Colombia will promote cities’ potential to drive pro-biodiversity urban growth.

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Urban Development

Cities Are Key to India’s Post-Pandemic Growth

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The unfolding COVID-19 pandemic has been catastrophic for cities, which have borne the brunt of the outbreak. According to estimates, about 70% of India’s GDP comes from its cities and around 25-30 people migrate to the cities from rural areas every minute. However, most big cities in India have wide economic disparity, with expansive slums and a large urban poor population. Studies estimate that about 25 million households in India – 35% of all urban households – cannot afford housing at market prices. It is time to create a new urban paradigm that enables cities to be healthier, more inclusive and more resilient.

The World Economic Forum’s new report, Indian Cities in the Post-Pandemic World, highlights the country’s most pressing urban challenges that were further exacerbated by the pandemic. The report provides insights for translating the lessons learned from the pandemic into an urban reform agenda.

The impact of the pandemic has been profoundly uneven on different population groups. Vulnerable populations, including low-income migrant workers, have suffered the dual blows of lost income and weak social-protection coverage. The pandemic has also laid bare gender-based imbalances in public and private life in India’s urban areas.

The report, produced in collaboration with the IDFC Institute in Mumbai, compiles insights from leading global and Indian urban experts across seven thematic pillars: planning, housing, transport, environment, public health, gender and vulnerable populations.


Among other recommendations, the report underscores the critical role data can play in helping cities manage and direct emergency operations during a crisis. But data alone is not a panacea; realizing the potential of cities requires empowered and capable governance, investment in transport and infrastructure to fuel productive urban economies, and a rethink of outdated planning norms and regulations.

The wide-ranging recommendations compiled in the report include:

· A rethink of outdated urban planning regulations, which will make cities more compact, commuter-friendly and green

· Greater decentralization and empowerment of local governments, which will allow for more proximate and responsive governance

· Addressing supply-side constraints to building houses at an affordable cost and encouraging a vibrant rental housing market that allows for labour mobility

· Investing in transport solutions that recognize the need to integrate peri-urban areas with urban cores

· Bolstering health capacity in cities by increasing the number of trained healthcare personnel; ensuring that infrastructure has adequate functional capacity, aligned with current and future demands

· Prioritizing inclusivity by addressing the biases and impediments faced by women and vulnerable populations in accessing urban opportunities

· Prioritizing action on environmental sustainability, air pollution and disaster management in urban rebuilding efforts

“Well-designed and governed cities can be dynamic centres that spur innovation, drive economic productivity and provide citizens with a good quality of life. The pandemic is an opportunity to address historical urban challenges and bring about positive long‑term change,” said Viraj Mehta, Head of India and South Asia and Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum.

“Amidst every pandemic, from the bubonic plague to the Spanish flu, pundits have foretold the death of cities. And yet they have emerged stronger every time. The pandemic can be a turning point in India’s urban journey, if we draw the right lessons and translate them into lasting change,” said Reuben Abraham, Chief Executive Officer and Senior Fellow, IDFC Institute.

The Indian Cities in the Post-Pandemic World report is part of the World Economic Forum’s broader collaboration with the IDFC Institute for a working group on Rebuilding Cities which has emerged from the Regional Action Group for South Asia. This group brings together public and private sector leaders and prominent experts from the region to interact regularly in order to support an adequate public-private response to the COVID-19 pandemic and jointly chart recovery efforts.

The working group on Rebuilding Cities is partnering with multiple Indian state governments to constitute state-level working committees comprising local/municipal government representatives, urban experts and other relevant stakeholders to devise implementable and context-specific urban reform recommendations.

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