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Urban Development

How can growing cities achieve water security for all in a world of scarcity?

Yogita Upadya Mumssen's picture
Join us Thursday, April 16th 3:30 p.m. - 5:00 p.m. ET

Just a few months ago, the World Economic Forum’s 10th Global Risk Report ranked water crises as the top global risk in terms of impact, more than the spread of infectious diseases, weapons of mass destruction or interstate conflict. With such global implications, we face a considerable challenge to develop the appropriate response. But we have also long grappled with a simple truth: water management is a complex web of local situations and issues, dictated by hydro-climatic conditions, spatial and demographic patterns, complex political economy dynamics, and technical considerations.
 
One increasingly pressing issue is the widening gap between the supply of water resources and the demand for water services in rapidly growing urban areas. This is exacerbated by dwindling resources in the face of climate vulnerability, and a legacy of poor governance and wasteful uses. This gap is most extreme in arid areas, which have few contingency options, and are left with few, if any, fallback options in case of further strain on the system.
 

Five reasons to act now to #endpollution

Paula Caballero's picture
Did you know that about 3.7 million people worldwide died in 2012 from diseases related to ambient air pollution? That is nearly the population of the city of Los Angeles expiring every year from preventable causes.

When you combine death-by-smog with deaths related to exposure to dirty indoor air, contaminated land and unsafe water, the grand total of deaths from all pollution sources climbs to almost 9 million deaths each year worldwide. That’s more than 1 in 7 deaths and makes pollution deadlier than malnutrition.
 
Photo via Shutterstock


This fact deserves to be better known, as there are ready solutions. Inaction is not an option.

 

Digitizing the university library for an enhanced learning experience

Shiro Nakata's picture
 

Components of the newly established RFID-based LMS system
 

The library of any academic institution plays a key role in providing knowledge-based support to its faculty members, researchers and students. In recent years, the ‘digital library’ has emerged as a novel concept. It allows the access to and sharing of literary information and resources in digital and non-digital forms within the local and global communities. However, for Bangladesh a ‘digital library’ was only a dream until the Academic Innovation Fund (AIF) under the Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project (HEQEP) intervened. The Central Library of the Bangladesh University of Engineering & Technology (BUET) has now been digitized. The library is now a role model for other universities in Bangladesh.

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.

States of Fragility 2015: A New Approach to Fragility Post-2015
OECD
States of Fragility 2015 is published at an important time for international development cooperation. In 2015, the world's government will agree on a successor framework to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  This framework will be more ambitious than ever, requiring in turn more urgent efforts to reduce the persistent poverty in fragile situations and strengthen the institutions that can deliver economic and social development. This 2015 OECD report on fragility contributes to the broader debate to define post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), and argues that addressing fragility in the new framework will be crucial if strides in reducing poverty are to be made. 
 
How interactive radio is reshaping politics in Africa
SciDev.net
The powerful combination of interactive radio and mobile phones is a force for political change in East Africa, says researcher Sharath Srinivasan in this audio interview.  As director of the Centre of Governance & Human Rights at the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, Srinivasan leads a team that uses ethnographic research, behavioural data and audience surveys to analyse how people in Kenya, Uganda and Zambia use radio for political and social debate. He says that call-in shows are hugely popular in these countries, particularly in rural areas where radio remains the dominant form of media. The rise of these shows has compelled politicians to tune in and directly engage with the on-air debates, Srinivasan says, shifting the relationship between people and policymakers.  But challenges remain.

Public spaces - not a “nice to have” but a basic need for cities

Sangmoo Kim's picture
The benefits of public spaces in the poorest parts of the world
Source: World Bank Staff

We often think of amenities such as quality streets, squares, waterfronts, public buildings, and other well-designed public spaces as luxury amenities for affluent communities. However, research increasingly suggests that they are even more critical to well-being of the poor and the development of their communities, who often do not have spacious homes and gardens to retreat to.

Living in a confined room without adequate space and sunlight increases the likelihood of health problems, restricts interaction and other productive activities. Public spaces are the living rooms, gardens and corridors of urban areas. They serve to extend small living spaces and providing areas for social interaction and economic activities, which improves the development and desirability of a community. This increases productivity and attracts human capital while providing an improved quality of life as highlighted in the upcoming Urbanization in South Asia report.

Despite their importance, public spaces are often poorly integrated or neglected in planning and urban development. However, more and more research suggests that investing in them can create prosperous, livable, and equitable cities in developing countries. UN-Habitat has studied the contribution of streets as public spaces on the prosperity of cities, which finds a correlation between expansive street grids and prosperity as well as developing a public space toolkit.

Piggybanks for plunder: Corrupt cash flows to Global Cities, requiring transparency and complete disclosure of assets

Christopher Colford's picture



Corrupt cash from secretive international sources – deliberately funneled through ‘shell companies’ to conceal the money’s illicit origins – is often used to buy ‘Towers of Secrecy’ in leading global cities like New York, as documented by a recent New York Times investigation.

Cities exert a magnetism that’s irresistible – attracting not just the most ambitious who seek economic opportunity and the most creative who revel in cultural richness, but also lawbreakers and looters: notably nowadays, the corrupt kleptocrats and tax-avoiding oligarchs whose hot money increasingly flows into the safe haven of prime real estate in the world’s leading cities.

At least part of the trend toward soaring center-city property prices, according to many anticorruption monitors, is due to the impact of illicit financial flows. It’s not just the plutocratic One Percenters who are steadily bidding up real-estate valuesPlunderers and profiteers – often concealing their identities, with the aim of shielding their wealth from tax authorities and international asset-trackers – use prestigious parcels of center-city property as a piggybank to shelter their tainted lucre.

The most vibrant and most competitive of Global Cities – notably London, Paris, New York, Hong Kong and Singapore – have long been magnets for money, luring the world’s most enterprising entrepreneurs as well as its most desperate refugees. As their global vocation and vitality have lured the ambitious and the avaricious, however, the “priced out of Paris” syndrome has often taken over: Gentrification has morphed into “plutocratization,” notes Simon Kuper of The Financial Times, with “global cities turning into vast gated communities where the One Percent reproduces itself.”

Meanwhile, “the middle classes and small companies [are] falling victim to class-cleansing," Kuper asserts. "Global cities are becoming patrician ghettos” – with the middle class and the poor being driven ever-further out from the center-city in search of affordable housing, doomed to interminable commutes to sterile suburbs or brooding banlieues.

Most of the property price spiral in world-leading cities is surely attributable to the allure of cosmopolitan life in an age when urbanization is accelerating worldwide. But as two members of the World Bank Group’s unit on Financial Market Integrity (FMI) and the Stolen Asset Recovery (StAR) Initiative recently wrote in a StAR blog post, the melt-up of prime property prices often involves corrupt money and evasive property-registration practices.

Citing a recent New York Times investigative series that meticulously documented suspicious practices within Manhattan real-estate trends, FMI specialists Ivana Rossi and Laura Pop noted that the property-buyers “took several steps to hide their identity as the real owners of the properties. Some of these steps involved buying condos through trusts, limited liability companies or other entities that shielded their names. Such tactics made it very hard to identify the 'beneficial owner': to figure out who owned what, or who was the ultimate controller of a company (or other legal entities) since the names were not shown in the company records.”

Vast sums are flowing unchecked around the world as never before – whether motivated by corruption, tax avoidance or investment strategy, and enabled by an ever-more-borderless economy and a proliferation of ways to move and hide assets,” said the painstaking New York Times investigation, "Towers of Secrecy," by Louise Story and Stephanie Saul.

Probing “the workings of an opaque economy for global wealth,” the reporters excavated the substrata of this enduring scandal. “Lacking incentive or legal obligation to identify the sources of money, an entire chain of people involved in high-end real-estate sales – lawyers, accountants, title brokers, escrow agents, real-estate agents, condo boards and building workers – often operate with blinders on.”

In a moment of inadvertent self-revelation, a Manhattan real-estate broker confessed her look-the-other-way negligence “when vetting buyers: ‘They have to have the money. Other than that, that’s it. That’s all we need.’ ” A former executive of a property-development firm was equally blunt: “You pretty much go by financial capacity. Can they afford it? They sign the contract, they put their money down with no contingency, and they close. They have to show the money, and that is it. I don’t think you will find a single new developer where it’s different.”

No wonder that the upper reaches of the U.S. real-estate market are “more alluring for those abroad with assets they wish to keep anonymous,” the Times analysis found. “For all the concerns of law-enforcement officials that ‘shell companies’ can hide illicit gains, regulatory efforts to require more openness from these companies have failed.”      

The Times’ discoveries, asserted Rossi and Pop, thus underscore the important issues involved in asset disclosure and "beneficial ownership” rules. Many nations require that public officials fully disclose their financial holdings. Such transparency is one important safeguard against the plundering of public wealth by kleptocrats, corrupt clans or well-connected cronies in countries that are vulnerable to chronic larceny.

Yet some dishonest public officials exploit legal loopholes – or flout the law entirely: “As the StAR publication ‘Puppet Masters’ demonstrated, those that do engage in corrupt activities are likely to use entities such as companies, foundations and trusts to hide their ill-gotten wealth,” wrote Rossi and Pop. “These conclusions are also confirmed by a recent Transparency International UK report. It showed that 75 percent of UK properties in the UK, under criminal investigation since 2004 – as the suspected proceeds of corruption – made use of offshore corporate secrecy to hide the owner’s identities.”

Drawing on a new World Bank Group report (which they co-authored with Francesco Clementucci and Lina Sawaqed), “Using Asset Disclosure for Identifying Politically Exposed Persons,” Rossi and Pop argued that accurate and complete financial disclosure by officials in positions of public trust (known in the financial-integrity world as “Politically Exposed Persons”) are an essential safeguard against the diversion of assets. Such disclosures, by themselves, don’t provide a “magic bullet” solution to prevent corruption, yet they are a vital mechanism in building transparency and trust.

“Once there is an ongoing investigation, the information declared can be very helpful as evidence, both in what has been included as well as omitted,” wrote Rossi and Pop. “In many countries, intentionally leaving out information on a house or a bank account carries serious penalties. Furthermore, financial disclosures can help catch a dishonest public official whose lavish lifestyle – including real estate in a prized location – could not be supported by the resources, such as a public-sector salary, indicated in the declaration.” The key factor in ensuring integrity and combating corruption is thus the full disclosure of “beneficial ownership.”

Property prices in Global Cities are already being propelled upward by the gusher of money that is flooding, through fully legal channels, into the world’s most desirable and stable locations – thus threatening to put affordable housing, in many major cities, beyond the reach of all but the fortunate few. The last thing that already-unaffordable cities need is an unchecked flood of illicit billions and furtive real-estate transactions, which will only intensify the pressure that now threatens to create a renewed boom-and-bust cycle of unstable housing prices.

Urban advocates who are working to promote inclusive, sustainable, resilient and competitive cities will applaud the continued vigilance of asset-trackers and corruption-hunters – like the FMI and StAR units, through their work sans frontières
on the disclosure of beneficial ownership – whose efforts to halt illicit financial flows will provide an additional instrument to help ensure that cities will be as inclusive as possible in a relentlessly urbanizing age.

 

#TakeOn Corruption


World Water Day: We want to hear from you





​Each year on March 22 we mark World Water Day. It is an opportunity to keep the urgent water issues – from lack of sanitation to transboundary water to climate change -- top of my mind for practitioners, decision makers and the global public. In the coming days we will post here updates and stories from the field, as well as links to some of our partners’ content. But, more importantly, this is an opportunity to hear from you, too.
 


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