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Urban Development

Investing in Public Spaces to Achieve Livable Cities for All

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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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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

Abu Dhabi, UNEP launch new socio-technology platform IRIS-3 at World Urban Forum

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A new socio-technology platform developed under the Abu Dhabi Global Environmental Data Initiative aims to fast-track environment assessments and save governments around the world thousands of staff hours reporting environmental conditions and performance contributing to sustainable development.

Launched today at the World Urban Forum in Abu Dhabi, the Indicator Reporting Information System-3 (IRIS-3) is a web platform, available as a remotely-hosted or intranet app, that makes the assessment and reporting of environmental information at local, national, regional and global scales easier, faster and more unified.

Developed by the long-standing AGEDI implementation partnership between Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) and United Nations Environment Programme, IRIS has the potential to transform state-of-environment reporting; helping decision-makers to take informed and timely action to improve our natural world.

Around the world, at local, national, regional and global levels, government agencies, NGO’s and the private sector produce numerous environmental status and performance reports every year.  Reporting manually can be a slow and labour-intensive process. When stakeholders need status updates on quarterly or monthly basis, report production becomes a significant drain on institutional resources.

IRIS will use indicators to automatically convert data collected from an organisation’s routine environmental monitoring programmes into a standardised report, while still allowing each organisation to add its commentary on status, trends, causes and consequences.

The human and machine reports produced through IRIS can then be easily aggregated at a national, regional or global level to provide a wider picture of the state of the environment.

Today’s launch of IRIS-3 marks the first time the platform is available with automatic end-to-end reporting, and organisations are now invited to register their interest in using the free-of-charge application.

Launching IRIS 3 at the World Urban Forum, Her Excellency Dr Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, Secretary General of the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi, which is proving IRIS at the sub-national reporting level, said:

“Monitoring and reporting on Abu Dhabi’s environment is a hugely important part of what we do at the agency. Whether it is the water quality at Saadiyat Beach or the air quality in our main residential areas, data helps us take evidence-based decisions to respond to environmental challenges, protect ecosystems and promote a healthy environment.

“IRIS will allow us to automate the process of reporting on the state and trends in the environment whilst ensuring the deep local knowledge of our scientists is embedded in the report narrative. I believe this system has the potential to transform the way countries report to stakeholders and will contribute to progress in national, regional and global efforts to protect and preserve our environment for future generations.  

“The launch of IRIS-3 is an exciting moment and I am proud of Abu Dhabi’s central role in innovating this game-changing globally-deployable technology,” she added. “It is part of our nearly two-decade long commitment to equip policymakers with actionable, timely information to inform and guide critical decisions towards a sustainable future.”

Much of the long-term, in-situ environmental monitoring data upon which national, regional and global assessments depends originates from sub-national level entities. As well as reducing the reporting burden at the institutional level, IRIS provides a mechanism for information to be exchanged and converted into actionable insight at local, national, regional and international scales.   

IRIS has attracted a great deal of interest; at the regional level, UNEP, in partnership with the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), has customized IRIS in support of the implementation of the Shared Environmental Information System (SEIS) in the 54 Pan-European countries. At the national level, earlier versions of IRIS have been installed on the Government Infrastructure in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cameroon, Montenegro, Mauritius, and Samoa to support State of the Environment and the implementation of the Framework for the Development of Environmental Statistics (FDES).

IRIS has attracted interest from outside Government hierarchies; UNEP deployed a thematic derivative for the Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) programme that runs under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), to provide information for elephant range states to support management and enforcement decisions toward long-term management of their elephant populations.  

The launch of IRIS-3 represents the start on an exciting next phase of the UNEP-Abu Dhabi partnership as we deploy IRIS with new users in the UAE, West Asia and globally and develop a global community IRIS deployments and users.

IRIS is a free of cost web-based application and will also be available as an on-premise solution that runs on local servers for organisations that require their data to be kept in-house. The aim is for IRIS to eventually be released as an open source.

IRIS envisions a Shared Knowledge Base (SKB) that will allow reporting organisations to share algorithms, templates and experiences with other IRIS users around the world.

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