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Davos Sees Challenges, ‘Smart Cities’ Seize Opportunities: Finding Sustainable Solutions Via Public-Private Dialogue

Christopher Colford's picture



As the world’s policymakers and business leaders converge in Davos, Switzerland for tomorrow’s opening of the World Economic Forum, there’s certainly no shortage of global threats for them to worry about during the WEF’s annual marathon of policy seminars and economic debates. A world of anxiety enshrouds this week’s conference theme of the “New Global Context,” judging by the WEF’s latest Global Risks Report: Its analysis of 28 urgent threats and 13 ominous long-term trends offers a comprehensive catalogue of extreme dangers to social stability and even human survival.

As if the Davos data isn’t worrisome enough, several just-issued scientific studies – which document worsening trends in climate change, humanity’s imminent collision with the limits of the planet’s resilience and the intensifying damage being wrought by voracious consumption-driven growth – trace a relentlessly gloomy trajectory.

Relieving some of the substantive tension, there’s also often a puckish undercurrent within each year’s Davos news coverage. Poking holes in the self-importance of Davos’ CEOs and celebrities – with varying degrees of lighthearted humor or reproachful reproof – has become a cottage industry, springing up every January to chide the mountaintop follies of “the great and the good.” Skeptics often scoff that the lofty pronouncements of Davos Deepthink have become almost a caricature of elite self-importance, and there’ll surely be plenty of the customary sniping at the insularity of Davos Man and at the insouciance of the globalized jet set as its over-refined One Percent folkways become ever more detached from the struggles of the stagnating middle class and desperate working poor.

Despite such Davos-season misgivings, it’s worth recalling the value of such frequent, fact-based knowledge-exchange events and inclusive dialogues among business leaders and thought leaders. Some of the Davos Set may revel in after-hours excess – its Lucullan cocktail-party scene is legendary – yet the substantive centerpiece of such meetings remains a valuable venue for expert-level policy debates, allowing scholars to inject their ideas straight into the bloodstream of corporate strategy-setting. The global policy debate arguably needs more, not fewer, thought-provoking symposia where decision-makers can be swayed by the latest thinking of the world’s academic and social-sector experts. Judging by the fragmented response to the chronic economic downturn by the global policymaking class, every multilateral institution ought to host continuing consultations to help shape a coherent policy agenda.

Focusing on just one area where in-depth know-how can serve the needs of decision-makers: The World Bank Group has long been tailoring world-class knowledge to deliver local solutions to client countries about one of the trends singled out in this year's WEF list of long-term concerns – the worldwide shift from “predominantly rural to urban living.” The biggest mass migration in human history has now concentrated more than 50 percent of the world’s population in cities, leading this year’s Global Risks Report to assert that the risk of failed urban planning is among the top global concerns.

“Without doubt, urbanization has increased social well-being,” commented one WEF trend-watcher. “But when cities develop too rapidly, their vulnerability increases: pandemics; breakdowns of or attacks on power, water or transport systems; and the effects of climate change are all major threats.”

Yet consider, also, the potential opportunities within the process of managing that trend toward ever-more-intense urban concentration. What if the prospect of chaotic urbanization were able to inspire greater city-management creativity – so that urban ingenuity makes successful urbanization a means to surmount other looming dangers?

For an example of the can-do determination and trademark optimism of the development community – with the world’s urbanization trend as its focus – consider the upbeat tone that pervaded a conference last week at the World Bank’s Preston Auditorium, analyzing “Smart Cities for Shared Prosperity.” With more than 850 participants in-person, and with viewers in 92 countries watching via livestream, the conference – co-sponsored by the World Resources Institute (WRI), Embarq, and the Transport and Information & Communications Technology (TICT) Global Practice of the World Bank Group – energized the world’s leading practitioners and scholars across the wide range of transportation-related, urban-focused, environment-conscious priorities.

(Thinking of the Preston gathering’s Davos-season timing and full-spectrum scope: It sometimes strikes me that – given the continuous procession of presidents, professors, poets and pundits at the Preston podium – there could be a tagline beneath Preston's entryway, suggesting that the Bank Group swirl of ideas feels like “Davos Every Day.”)

Amid its focus on building “smart cities” and strengthening urban sustainability, the annual Transforming Transportation conference took the “smart cities” concept beyond its customary focus on analyzing Big Data and deploying the latest technology-enabled metrics. By investing in “smart” urban design – and, above all, by putting people rather than automobiles at the center of city life – the scholars insisted that society can reclaim its urban destiny from the car-centric, carbon-intensive pattern that now chokes the livability of all too many cities.

The fast-forward series of “smart cities” speeches and seminars reinforced the agenda summarized by TICT Senior Director Pierre Guislain and WRI official Ani Dasgupta – formerly of the Bank Group and now the global director of WRI’s Ross Center on Sustainable Cities – in an Op-Ed commentary for Thomson Reuters: “We can either continue to build car-oriented cities that lock in unsustainable patterns, or we can scale up existing models for creating more inclusive, accessible and connected cities. Pursuing smarter urban mobility options can help growing cities leapfrog car-centric development and adopt strategies that boost inclusive economic growth and improve [the] quality of life.”

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
 

Thanks to Urbanization, Tomorrow's Megalopolises Will Be in Africa and Asia
Foreign Policy
Tokyo will still be the world’s largest city in 2030, but it will have many more contenders on its heels. According to a fascinating new report from the United Nations, the globe will have 41 “mega-cities” -- defined as those with 10 million or more inhabitants -- up from 28 now. Although the world’s largest urban centers have historically been concentrated in the developed world, fast-paced urbanization in Africa and Asia means that the megalopolises of tomorrow will be found in the developing world. By 2030, Asia and Africa will host nine of the world’s 10 largest cities, according to the report.

Mobilizing Private Investment for Post-2015 Sustainable Development
Brookings
The sustainable development goals are likely to have a more ambitious scope than the Millennium Development Goals. Accordingly, they will need a more ambitious financing for development strategy that can mobilize much more public, private, and “blended” finance.  Very rough estimates indicate that at least $1 trillion of additional annual investment is required in developing and emerging economies.  At first glance this might appear to be a large number, but it represents only approximately 10 percent of extra investment above current levels. It is clear that official development assistance, on its own, would be incapable of meeting financing needs, even if the target to provide 0.7 percent of gross national income were to be achieved by all developed countries. But official development assistance (ODA) could, through leverage and catalytic support, help mobilize substantially more private capital. 
 

The Urban Moment

Chandan Deuskar's picture
City street scene
Urbanization can reconfigure social and cultural relationships.

Cities have been experiencing a moment in the cultural spotlight in the last few years. There is more discussion and even celebration of cities than ever before. Newspapers and magazines are starting websites dedicated to global urban issues, university researchers and technology companies are turning their attention to ‘smart cities’, and there are even popular documentary movies, reality shows and musicals all about city planning. India, still mostly rural, has just elected a new Prime Minister who promises urban redevelopment and ‘new-age cities’, and it is no longer shocking to hear that China's proposed urbanization budget runs in the trillions of dollars.

Why has this urban moment come about now? Several trends, some in the developing world and others in wealthier countries, seem to have converged lately. It is interesting to step back and examine these trends, before thinking about where we go from here.

Urbanization as opportunity

LTD Editors's picture

Urbanization deserves urgent attention from policy makers, academics, entrepreneurs, and social reformers of all stripes. Nothing else will create as many opportunities for social and economic progress. The urbanization project began roughly 1,000 years after the transition from the Pleistocene to the milder and more stable Holocene interglacial. In 2010, the urban population in developing countries stood at 2.5 billion. The most important citywide projects -- successes like New York and Shenzhen -- show even more clearly how influential human intention can be. The developing world can accommodate the urban population growth and declining urban density in many ways. One is to have a threefold increase in the average population of its existing cities and a six fold increase in their average built-out area. Another, which will leave the built-out area of existing cities unchanged, will be to develop 625 new cities of 10 million people -- 500 new cities to accommodate the net increase in the urban population and another 125 to accommodate the 1.25 billion people who will have to leave existing cities as average density falls by half.

Bold Steps for China’s Cities

Sri Mulyani Indrawati's picture
Also available in: العربية  Español


Photo courtesy of Li Wenyong

 

In 2030, more than 300 million Chinese are expected to have moved into cities. By then, 70 percent will live in urban settings. Given China’s size, it will mean that one in six urban dwellers worldwide will be Chinese. The challenges coming with that demographic shift are already visible and well known, in China and beyond.

Urbanization is a global trend. So when we think about new approaches to urbanization here in China, we believe that they are of value for other countries facing similar issues. In other words, China’s success in urbanization could pave the way for global rethinking on how cities can be built to be healthy, efficient, and successful.

What Will it Take to End Poverty in Cities?

Abha Joshi-Ghani's picture

Postcards from the World Urban Forum in Medellin, Colombia

From April 5th to 11th, in Medellin, the World Urban Forum (WUF) brought together a diverse group of urban thinkers and doers to discuss the world’s most urgent urban challenges. With participants meeting under the theme of “Urban Equity in Development – Cities for Life,” the overall atmosphere was one of cautious optimism. On the one hand, participants were highly aware of the vast challenges facing cities and their inhabitants. Cities remain home to shocking levels of inequality and highly pernicious forms of social and economic exclusion. In that respect, hosting the Forum in Medellin helped drive the point home—as UN-Habitat Executive Director Jon Clos observed before the event, “We want a realistic world urban forum, we want a forum in a real city that has real issues.” On the other, attendees were buoyed by the conviction that today’s rapid urbanization represents an unprecedented demographic and economic opportunity. Medellin itself has made astounding progress in recent years, focusing on improving transport and mobility, inclusive governance, and education.

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
 

The Transformative Impact of Data and Communication on Governance: Part 2
Brookings Institution
My previous TechTank post described the expanding reach of technology and, consequentially, the growing availability of information in Africa, Latin America and elsewhere in less developed countries. Rather than speak of failed states I refer to “areas of limited statehood.” An area of limited statehood involves several possible dimensions of failed service delivery, or an inability to enforce binding rules with legitimate use of force. A slum, for example, even in the heart of a nation’s capital, if it is devoid of public goods like sanitation, security, or even basic infrastructure, is an area of limited statehood. So, too, would vast stretches of rural countryside beyond the reach of the administrative capacity of the national government. The Eastern DR Congo fits this pattern. In this post, I offer examples of the use of technology that at least partially address governance shortfalls in areas of limited statehood. Put another way, I describe how technologies are used to provide for public goods, such as security, sanitation, drinkable water, and economic opportunity.

The Data Mining Techniques That Reveal Our Planet's Cultural Links and Boundaries
MIT Technology Review
The habits and behaviors that define a culture are complex and fascinating. But measuring them is a difficult task. What’s more, understanding the way cultures change from one part of the world to another is a task laden with challenges. The gold standard in this area of science is known as the World Values Survey, a global network of social scientists studying values and their impact on social and political life. Between 1981 and 2008, this survey conducted over 250,000 interviews in 87 societies. That’s a significant amount of data and the work has continued since then. This work is hugely valuable but it is also challenging, time-consuming and expensive.

Growth Centred Approach Under PURA: The Way Forward for the World Bank India Country Partnership Strategy 2013-2017

Abhilaksh Likhi's picture

The broad objective of the World Bank’s India Country Partnership Strategy Report (CPS) for the period 2013-2017 is to support poverty reduction and shared prosperity in India. The Report states that between 2005 and 2010, India’s share of global GDP increased from 1.8 to 2.7% and 53 million people were lifted out of poverty. But it also states that with population growth, it has proved difficult to reduce the absolute number of poor at a rapid pace and 400 million Indians still live in poverty. Each of the seven low income states (Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan; Uttar Pradesh)  and seven special category states (Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Sikkim, Uttrakhand) have poverty rates that are higher than that of the more advanced states. The low income states, where a large majority of the poorest 200 million Indians reside, are a priority for the World Bank Country Strategy funding during 2013-2017 (estimated to be $ 5 billion annually with 60 percent lending through direct financing of state projects of which half will go to low income and special category states).

India, both in the above mentioned and its advanced states (e.g. Punjab, Haryana, Kerala) is undergoing a massive rural- urban transformation- one of the largest in the 21st century. For the first time since independence, India has seen a greater absolute growth in urban population. The number of towns has increased from about 5000 in 2001 to 8,000 in 2011 and some 53 cities have a population exceeding one million. Today 30.1 percent of the population lives in urban areas and the share is expected to rise to 50% in the next 20 years (with urban India expected to generate 70% of its GDP by 2030). Though villages vastly outnumber towns in India (660,000 villages as per Census 2011), the construct of these villages is changing as the economy grows.

Need to Know: Why Open Data is for Everyone

Roxanne Bauer's picture

The International Finance Corporation hosted a ‘Hard Talk’ on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 entitled ‘Presumption of Openness: Can Open Data Contribute to Economic Growth and Prosperity?’ Rufus Pollock, Director and Co-founder of Open Knowledge Foundation, and Gavin Starks, CEO of Open Data Institute, provided insight as guest speakers about what constitutes open data, how it contributes to economic growth, and the ways in which it can contribute to The World Bank Group’s twin goals of poverty eradication and shared prosperity.

Open Data

Essentially, open data is both a concept and a category of data.  It is the idea that some data should be freely available to everyone to use and repurpose without restrictions from copyright, patents, or other controls.  It is defined by three characteristics: (1) ease of access to data, (2) ability to reuse and share data, and (3) universal participation- anyone can use the data.  As a category of data, open data refers to data— big and small— that are comprised of anonymous and non-personal information and to content, such as images, text and music.

In terms of poverty reduction, both Pollock and Starks believe that the potential benefits of open data are numerous and powerful. As urbanization, globalization, and fragmentation all continue to shape societies, they argue that data can help governments, the private sector, and communities to be more efficient, resourceful, and effective.

Cities act on climate change: Thoughts on the C40 Summit in Joburg

Stephen Hammer's picture

If you go to a conference on cities and climate change, you inevitably hear the statement that “countries talk…but cities act”. This message was loud and clear at the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Summit in Johannesburg last month, where a new report released by the C40 and ARUP detailed the 8000+ initiatives that C40 member cities are undertaking to either reduce GHG emissions or increase their climate resilience. Since the first such report came out in 2011, more cities are reporting on their efforts, and those reporting are doing ever more, expanding the array of initiatives they have launched.


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