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sustainable cities

The World Bank has a new Climate Action Plan. What's in it for cities?

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
The World Bank Group’s Climate Action Plan, adopted last month, is designed to help countries meet their COP21 pledges and manage increasing climate impacts.
 
To achieve these goals, working with cities will be essential: with almost 80% of GHG emissions emanating from urban areas, cities are among the biggest contributors to climate change... and must, inevitably, become a big part of the solution.
 
Cities are also particularly vulnerable to climate risk and other forms of natural hazards, with many of them located in disaster-prone areas. Therefore, enhancing disaster resilience in urban settings is another key requirement to build more sustainable cities in the face of climate change.
 
The good news? Many countries are still in the early stages of the urbanization process, meaning they have a unique opportunity to develop sustainable cities right from the beginning - a much more viable option than trying to retrofit them later on.
 
In this video, World Bank Senior Director Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez and Practice Manager Bernice Van Bronkhorst explain how they are working with clients to make climate-smart cities a reality.
 
If you want to learn more about this topic, we invite you to discover our latest Sustainable Communities podcast.

How Latin America’s housing policies are changing the lives of urban families

Luis Triveno's picture
Photo: Pierre-Yves Babelon/Shutterstock
In an effort to harness the benefits of urbanization and improve the living conditions of the urban poor, Latin American countries have experimented with housing subsidies. Now that the region has several decades of experience under its belt, it is time to look back and ask: Have subsidies worked? What kind of impact have they had on the lives of lower-income residents? Moving forward, how can cities pay for ongoing urban renewal?

To address those questions and share their experiences, officials in charge of designing and implementing national housing policies in eight countries (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay, and Peru) recently met in Washington DC, along with representatives from the World Bank, Cities Alliance, the Urban Institute, and Wharton's International Housing Finance Program.

Learning to leverage climate action in cities

Abha Joshi-Ghani's picture
All climate action is ultimately local. At the center of this is city leadership and engaged citizens. It is estimated that cities are responsible for 2/3 of global energy consumption and produce 80 % of the world’s GDP. Density creates the possibility of doing more with less, and with a smaller carbon footprint. While urban areas are responsible for more than 70 % of global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, it is cities that can make a difference by effectively tackling climate change. We often find that cities lead the way on climate action against the inertia of national governments.
 
We already see a large number of cities taking the lead in sustainability through innovative financing mechanisms, technological advances, policy and regulatory reforms, efficient use of land and transport, waste reduction, energy efficiency measures, and reduction of GHG emissions.
 
What is needed now for scaling this up is systematic knowledge exchange and learning among cities. Peer-to-peer learning is a powerful tool once contextualized and adapted to the particular socio-economic and political context. Iterative learning with feedback loops can help in finding transformative solutions.

Singapore Hub gives cities a chance to "learn from the best"

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
Despite limited resources, Singapore has defied the odds to become a high-income nation as well as a global trade and financial center - all in just a few decades. The city is also hailed as model of sustainable urban development, consistently receiving high praise for its high-quality infrastructure, reliable mass transit system, and abundance of green spaces.
 
Inspired by Singapore's successful and forward-thinking vision, the World Bank chose the city-state as the site for its first Infrastructure and Urban Development Hub. Aside from traditional lending and technical support to client countries, the Singapore Hub has been designed to facilitate knowledge exchange between Singapore and other countries on issues relating to urban planning and management.
 
Jordan Schwartz, its Director, tells us more about the role of the Singapore Hub as a global knowledge platform for sustainable urban development.

Using green infrastructure to control urban floods: a win-win for cities

Zuzana Stanton-Geddes's picture
Photo: Eugene Phoen/Flickr
Photo: Eugene Phoen/Flickr

We have all come across people whose homes have beautiful and always blooming plants and flowers – people with a so-called “green thumb”.

But did you know that cities too can have a “green thumb”? Singapore is certainly one of those cities. 

Also known as the "garden city”, Singapore is set to become a "city in a garden”. The abundance of greenery is a striking feature, with parks, green roofs, street side plants, and trees on every corner.

But greenery is not there just to please the eye and create livable public areas — it also helps mitigate the risk of flooding.


Singapore, like many other densely-populated cities, is at risk of flooding. One way to tackle this is by greening public spaces and encouraging private development to follow the principles of the government’s flagship “ABC” program, which looks to make water “Active, Beautiful and Clean”. Carefully planned and implemented, investments in so-called “green infrastructure” are paying off: they make the city more resilient and more sustainable in the long-term, and also create more spaces for people to meet and interact.

Although Singapore’s dedication to greening public spaces is remarkable, it is not the only city that is getting its hands “dirty” to promote natural ecosystems. The Netherlands has been promoting green approaches in urban planning for many years now, with the innovative redesign of sewer systems, or the creation of multi-functional “water squares” which can hold storm water when rain is heavy while otherwise serving as a social space.

A new platform to put cities at the core of sustainable development

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
Urban areas will play a critical role in achieving sustainable development and combating climate change. Many cities have already taken bold steps to reduce their environmental footprint, and have often been able to do so much more quickly and pro-actively than their national governments.
 
Based on the premise that greener cities are the key to a more sustainable future, the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility launched the new Global Platform for Sustainable Cities (GPSC) earlier this month in Singapore. The new platform will help mobilize funding for urban sustainability programs, while also facilitating knowledge exchange between cities.
 
Thanks to this innovative approach that closely connects finance to knowledge, the GPSC will be uniquely positioned to make cities the driving force of sustainable development.

Resilient Communities: What does it take to curb violence in cities?

Paula Rossiasco's picture

Photo: Make Noise not Art/Flickr
Almost five years ago in a discussion with urban experts from several Latin American and African countries, an important question was asked: how do we curb increasing levels of crime and violence in some of the fastest urbanizing countries in the world?
 
To explore this query, we embarked on a cross-country analysis of cities in West, Central and East Africa, seeking to not only better our understanding of urban fragility, crime, and violence, but also identify critical entry points to curb the challenges we would find. In the report Urban Fragility and Violence in Africa: A Cross-country Analysis, we explored one of the most recently relevant but less explored dimensions of fragility and violence in Africa: urbanization.
 
The world is urbanizing at staggering, unprecedented rates. By 2014, 54% of the world’s population was residing in urban areas. This number is projected to grow to 66% by 2050. Today’s large cities are concentrated in developing countries, with medium-sized African and Asian cities as the fastest growing urban agglomerations. People migrate fervently to urban areas with hopes of higher per capita incomes, increased employment levels, improved living conditions and well-being, and better chances to integrate into the national territorial economy.
 
Unfortunately, this promise has yet to be fulfilled in many cities. Often, the urbanization process is poorly managed and the mismatch between the growing number of migrants and the institutional and infrastructural capacity of cities is large. Experts argue that “the pace of urbanization, together with its sheer scale, is likely to stress national and urban institutions in many developing countries to their breaking point."

Urbanization reviews: connecting the dots between urban geography and economic development

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
Over the last 5 years, the World Bank has conducted a number of in-depth, systematic analyses to zero in on the specifics of urbanization in its client countries. These so-called “Urbanization Reviews” pay special attention to the linkages between urban geography and economy: Where do people live within cities? Where are the jobs? How do residents move around cities? How do they move between cities? How does this affect cities’ economy as well as their country’s overall development?

In this video, Marisela Montoliu Muñoz, World Bank Director for Urban Development and Disaster Risk Management, provides a sweeping overview of the Bank’s Urbanization Reviews, and explains why a better understanding of the urbanization process is critical to helping countries grow sustainably and maximize their economic potential.

Click here to view a list of Urbanization Reviews that have been completed so far.

A good diagnosis for the city economy?

Dmitry Sivaev's picture



One walks into a doctor’s office knowing what hurts but with little knowledge of what should be done to fix it. Identifying proper treatment requires sophisticated tests, participation of experts and, often, second opinions.

Cities, arguably, are as complicated as human bodies. Our knowledge of diagnosing cities, however, is far less advanced than in human biology and medicine.  Most mayors know very clearly what they want for their cities – jobs, economic growth, high incomes and a good quality of life for the people. But it is very difficult to identify what prevents private-sector firms, the agents that create jobs and provide incomes, from growing and delivering these benefits to a city. And we have no X-ray machine to aid in the effort.
 
As a part of the World Bank Group's Competitive Cities project, we thought hard about ways to help cities identify the roots of their problems and design interventions to address them. We set out on a journey to put together methodologies and guidelines for cities that want to figure out what they can do to help firms thrive and create jobs.  We learned from our own experience of working with cities, and from other urban practitioners. We reviewed many methodological and appraisal materials, and we trial-tested our ideas.

So what have we achieved? We certainly didn’t invent an X-ray machine, but we have developed “Growth Pathways” – a methodology and a decision-support system to help guide cities and practitioners through diagnostic exercises.

Competitive Cities: Bucaramanga, Colombia – An Andean Achiever

Z. Joe Kulenovic's picture


Modern business facilities, tourist attractions, and an expanding skyline: Bucaramanga, Colombia. 

When the World Bank’s Competitive Cities team set out to analyze what some of the world’s most successful cities have done to spur economic growth and job creation, the first one we visited was Bucaramanga, capital of Colombia’s Santander Department. Nestled in the country’s rugged Eastern Cordillera, landlocked and without railroad links, this metropolitan area of just over 1 million people has consistently had one of Latin America’s best-performing economies. Bucaramanga, with Colombia’s lowest unemployment rate and with per capita income at 170 percent of the national average, is on the threshold of attaining high-income status as defined by the World Bank.  

Bucaramanga and its surrounding region are rife with contrasts. On the one hand, it has a relatively less export-intensive economy and higher rates of informal business establishments and workers than Colombia as a whole. Indeed, informality has often been cited as a key constraint to firms’ ability to access support programs and to scale up. On the other, Santander’s rates of poverty and income inequality, and its gender gap in labor-force participation, are all better than the national average, and it has consistently led the country on a number of measures of economic growth, including aggregate output, job creation and consumption.   
 
But the numbers tell only part of the story. A qualitative transformation of Bucaramanga’s economy is under way. Once dominated by lower-value-added industries like clothing, footwear and poultry production, the city is now home to knowledge-intensive activities such as precision manufacturing, logistics, biomedical, R&D labs and business process outsourcing, as well as an ascendant tourism sector. Meanwhile, Santander’s oil industry, long a major employer in the region, has been a catalyst for developing and commercializing innovative technologies, rather than just drilling for, refining and shipping petroleum.

All these achievements are neither random nor accidental: They are the result of local stakeholders successfully working together to respond to the challenges of globalization and external competitive pressures.


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