Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania: Saturday around 7:00 am, Punxsutawney Phil (PA, USA) emerged from his burrow, did not see his shadow and predicted an early end to winter. A few minutes later and a few hundred miles north, Wiarton Willie (ON, Canada) surfaced, didn’t see his (or is it her) shadow and also predicted an early spring.
Once again, like last year, immediately after the groundhogs issued their prognostications, the Houston and Calgary based ‘Committee for Climate Certainty’ rebutted the groundhogs’ findings, claiming the science was uncertain. The Committee released several years of hacked emails between Wiarton Willie and Punxsutawney Phil – “What are we going to do about those climate doubter’s concerns? We are likely to have a repeat of last year.” Willie is purported to have written Phil in an email. “Let’s stick to the date, fudge the timing, and hope no one notices,” Phil is reported to have responded.
A thriving and active waterfront has been a common thread for great cities and urban centers, though the relationship of cities with their waterfront has undergone a series of transformations. In the industrial era, manufacturing and maritime activities such as shipyards, warehouses, and heavy industries dominated properties along the water, which served as an important transportation corridor. Today, in the post-industrial era, many cities are realizing the potential of reinventing waterfront properties.
In a webinar on January 10 hosted by the World Bank’s South Asia Urbanization Flagship Project in collaboration with the East Asia and Pacific urban team, speakers and participants from around the globe discussed challenges, strategies, and successful practices in waterfront redevelopment through a series of case studies. Five essential ingredients emerged:
World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg weighed in January 18 on what it will take to shape the future of cities — and cut pollution, road deaths, commute times, and poverty.
A large part of the answer: greener, more efficient and cost-effective urban transportation that is designed to move people, not cars.
“We have to start looking at other ways to move people. Traffic does hurt your economy,” Mayor Bloomberg said at the 10th Annual Transforming Transportation conference in Washington, D.C., hosted by the World Bank and EMBARQ.
With 90 percent of city air pollution caused by vehicles, finding transportation solutions also will help confront emissions that drive climate change, Dr. Kim added.
First the good news: Earlier this month, Mayor Iñaki Azkuna of Bilbao, Spain was awarded the prestigious World Mayor Prize for 2012. Mayor Azkuna was in good company. Other finalists included the mayors of: Perth, Australia; Surakarta, Indonesia; El Paso, USA; Changwon City, Korea; Auckland, NZ; Angeles City, Philippines; Zeralda, Algeria; Matamoras, Mexico; and somewhat surprisingly, Mayor Regis Lebeaume of Quebec City, Canada.
The bad news for 2012 and mayors was best seen in Canada. The World Mayor Prize shortlisting of Mayor Lebeaume came amidst a spate of problems for other mayors in the Province of Quebec. At least four mayors resigned over corruption allegations in Quebec, including Montreal’s Mayor Gerald Tremblay.
While on its path to becoming the largest city in the Americas, Sao Paulo used its natural capital - water - to generate electricity, fuel industry, and satiate its ever-growing population. Natural infrastructure was traded for the concrete form and the city’s great rivers paid a high price for industrialization.
The result? Tremendous growth (averaging 5% per annum) that stimulated rapid and unplanned migration to the city and environmental pollution. Urban sprawl generated little to no infrastructure for managing water, sanitation and wastewater, or solid waste. Clearing the land for houses caused erosion and compacted soils, and the resulting increase in runoff has made an already wet city even more prone to floods.
Most of the literature about Africa’s growth, “Africa Rising”, “Lions on the Move”, etc., refer to the present or the future. An oft-quoted World Bank report said, “Africa could be on the brink of an economic takeoff, much like China was 30 years ago and India 20 years ago.”
Meanwhile, Alwyn Young has recently published a paper that claims that per-capita consumption on the continent has been growing at 3.4-3.7 percent a year for the last two decades—about three to four times the growth rates documented in other studies. Instead of using national accounts data (which, as we know, suffer from several deficiencies), Alwyn adopts the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), which calculate the households’ ownership of assets and other indicators of well-being (ownership of a car or bicycle; material of the house floor; birth, death or illness of a child, etc.).
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The number of vehicles on the world’s roads is on pace to double to about 1.7 billion by 2035. Pair that with a rapidly urbanizing population – six in 10 of us are likely to live in cities by 2030 – and the world’s cities have a transport problem in the making.
It’s also an opportunity, one that cities, particularly the fast-growing urban centers in developing countries, must take now.
Those that build efficient, inclusive urban transport systems can connect their people with jobs, health care, and education. They can reduce congestion, and they can limit carbon emissions that are contributing to climate change.
Historically, cities and civilizations have flourished along water bodies, which not only served as important transportation corridors to spur economic activity and trade, but also as prominent public spaces for religious and cultural interaction. Today, while a large number of cities have turned away from this important natural resource, many have reclaimed and transformed their waterfronts into thriving economic engines and nodes of social activity. Can cities redefine their relationship with water while managing challenges of rapid urbanization?
The World Bank’s South Asia Sustainable Development Unit, in collaboration with East Asia Pacific Sustainable Development Unit, is organizing a webinar on waterfront development to discuss different dimensions of waterfront initiatives and tools for a sustainable regenerative economic environment.
As of January 1st, I’m officially ‘retired’ from the World Bank. This is a dozen years before I had to retire, but I wanted to move back to Ontario for love and opportunity. However, I’ve already come to the conclusion that if you care about sustainable development and cities, you can never fully leave the World Bank.
Things are about to get ‘very hairy’ as we bump up against, and in a few cases pass right through, planetary limits. Sure, sure – everyone’s familiar with the rebuttals to the ‘limits to growth’ argument, and true, humans are amazingly resourceful. We will certainly pull a few innovative planetary rabbits from our hat. But make no mistake, tomorrow’s world will be much more affluent, uncertain, less stable, and at times, down-right scary as we deal with a billion-plus people that expect to live a similar lifestyle to today’s fortunate few (the planet’s richest two billion are being joined by another two billion ‘middle class’). All this is happening while we still have more than a billion people living in absolute and debilitating poverty (the single largest source of instability in the world).