Every day, the world’s population generates enough waste to fill about 14 large soccer stadiums from top to bottom, more than 3.5 million tonnes. That's a lot of trash, from plastic bottles that aren't going anywhere to food scraps and other perishable items decaying and building up greenhouse gases in landfills and trash dumps.
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“It takes over 40 minutes just to get out of the parking lot. There has to be another way!" Listening to Manuel, an executive from Sao Paulo, was the tipping point that convinced us to convert our theoretical analysis on the potential of “corporate mobility” programs into real-life pilot programs in both Sao Paulo and Mexico.
Corporate Mobility Programs are employer-led efforts to reduce the commuting footprint of their employees. Such programs are usually voluntary. The underlying rationale behind them is that improved public transport systems or better walking and cycling facilities are necessary but not sufficient to address urban mobility challenges and move away from car-centric development. Moreover, theory suggests that corporate mobility initiatives may have the potential for a rare “triple bottom line”: they reduce employers’ parking-related costs, improve employees’ morale and reduce congestion, emissions and automobility. In other words, corporate mobility programs are good for profits, good for people and good for the planet.
Most Of What We Need For Smart Cities Already Exists
The compelling thing about the emerging Internet of Things, says technologist Tom Armitage, is that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel — or the water and sewage systems, or the electrical and transportation grids. To a large degree, you can create massive connectivity by simple (well, relatively simple) augmentation. “By overlaying existing infrastructure with intelligent software and sensors, you can turn it into something else and connect it to a larger system,” says Armitage.
Mideast Media Study: Facebook Rules; Censoring Entertainment OK
PBS Media Shift
A new study by Northwestern University in Qatar and the Doha Film Institute reveals that Middle Eastern citizens are quite active online, with many spending time on the web daily to watch news and entertainment video, access social media and stream music, film and TV. “Entertainment Media Use In the Middle East” is a six-nation survey detailing the media habits of those in Qatar, Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia. The results of the survey, which involved 6,000 in-person interviews, are, in part, a reflection of how the Internet has transformed Arab nations since the Arab Spring. More than ever, consumers in the Middle East/North Africa (MERA) region are using technology to pass along vital information, incite social and political change, become citizen journalists and be entertained.
At first my eyes could not believe it. Was this for real? A cable car system designed to connect two cities? I was well aware of cable cars at ski resorts, and other major touristic attractions like the Sugarloaf in Rio de Janeiro. But cable cars as a commuting mode between two cities seemed to me a different story.
If you have been to La Paz, the highest capital in the world at some 3,650 meters above sea level (13,000 feet), you know it lies in a canyon right below El Alto, another city built on the altiplano, a higher plateau. The population of both cities is around 2 million people connected by a single highway.
With narrow and winding streets, particularly in La Paz, traffic congestion can be awful for thousands of daily peak-time commuters. Because of the challenging geography, other transport infrastructure –such as additional highways or metro systems- were at some point considered, but were either unrealistic to execute because of the capricious topography, or simply too expensive or not commercially viable.
In 2011, Thailand suffered the worst floods in half a century. The flood crisis impacted more than 13 million people. About 97,000 houses were damaged and entire villages and cities were under water for months.
House in Ayutthaya affected by the 2011 floods
Three years later, Thailand has been able to deal with the worst of the impacts but some of the poorest households are still struggling to recover. We visited 10 affected communities in Ayutthaya and Nakhon Sawan as part of the supervision of the Community-based Livelihood Support for Urban Poor Project (SUP). We could still see the water marks on their walls, damaged ceilings, and wobbly structures. The unrepaired houses stuck out but just as striking was the strong sense of community in the area. We were reminded that villagers came together to overcome the worst natural disaster most of them ever witnessed in their lives.
The flooding led to better disaster risk management in the neighborhoods that are most at risk. Local governments have taken the lead. But the disaster has also, just as importantly, mobilized ordinary citizens in some of the most deprived communities. Here are some of their stories:
Photo: Sam Kittner / Capital Bikeshare
Recently, I was invited to join a panel on the sharing economy moderated by Prof. Susan Shaheen at UC Berkeley, focusing more specifically on shared mobility.
The panel acknowledged that shared mobility is already transforming the mobility landscape globally, but could go a lot further in increasing the sustainability of urban mobility systems. The panel identified a number of key research gaps that we need to pay close attention to if we want to create a policy environment that is conducive to mobility innovations. Three that I want to highlight are:
- Supporting open data and open-source ecosystems is critical considering the tremendous potential of open-source software and data-sharing for improving transport planning, facilitating management and providing a better experience for transport users (for more detail, please see my previous blog on how the transport sector in Mexico is being transformed by open data)
- Looking into shared-economy solutions for those at the bottom of the pyramid – solutions that don’t require credit cards and smartphones as prerequisites (see this blog on the bike-share system in Buenos Aires for a good example)
- The world of driverless cars is coming – which, depending on how policy responds to it, could spell really good or really bad news for the environment: if such technology is used primarily in shared mobility scenarios, it could greatly reduce the environmental cost of motorized transport; on the other hand, the possibility of “empty trips” with zero-occupancy cars could exacerbate the worst elements of automobility (see Robin Chase’s blog in The Atlantic Cities for a great discussion on this). That is why it is critical to create a policy environment that appropriately prices the ‘bads’ of congestion, accidents and emissions while steering the world of driverless cars towards sharing and resource conservation.
The Nigerien city of Gaya is booming. Sitting on the banks of the Niger River not far from the borders of Benin and Nigeria, Gaya has grown from a quiet village to a hopping new hub. Its population is five times what it was just a few decades ago. So what has Gaya on the go?
To some extent, it's a trade story. Price differences across its nearby borders, helped by a ban on imports of second-hand clothes in Nigeria, and an avoidance of tax collection by customs officials have all been important factors in explaining the boom of trade in the region. Yet, combining these with an analysis of the development of transnational networks gives a more complete picture.
This is where Social Network Analysis sheds new light on the story of Gaya, by looking at these interactions to help improve our understanding of the dynamics involved.
During the recent 7th World Urban Forum (WUF) in Medellin, the talk was not just about the hundreds of millions of people coming to cities—but also the tens of thousands of city managers and local governments who will need to manage cities more effectively to unleash the promise of urbanization. The WBI urban team, together with the Institute of Housing and Urban Studies and UN-Habitat’s Capacity Development unit, convened over 40 partners for a day of reflection on this challenge.
Such a gathering had happened twice before— in preparation of Habitat II in Istanbul (1996), again in the run-up to the third WUF in Vancouver (2006)—and now on the cusp of the next milestone (Habitat III in 2016). It is helpful to consider where we have been and where are we now on this critical (and somewhat slippery) subject, given the 20 years’ worth of perspective in this area.