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Urban Development

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Does talking about corruption make it seem worse?
The Guardian
What do most people immediately think of when you ask them why poor countries are poor? We’re pretty confident that it will be corruption. Whether you ask thousands of people in a nationally representative survey, or small focus groups, corruption tops people’s explanations for the persistence of poverty. Indeed, 10 years of research into public perceptions of poverty suggests that corruption “is the only topic related to global poverty which the mass public seem happy to talk about”.  Which is odd, because it’s the absolute last thing that people actually working in development want to talk about.
Africa’s moment to lead on climate
Washington Post
Climate change is the greatest threat facing humanity today. To avoid catastrophe, we must dramatically reduce the carbon intensity of our modern energy systems, which have set us on a collision course with our planetary boundaries. This is the challenge leading up to three key international events this year: a July summit on financing for new global development goals, another in September to settle on those goals and — crucially — a global meeting in December to frame an agreement, and set meaningful targets, on climate change. But focusing on ambitious global climate goals can mask the existence of real impacts on the ground. Nowhere is this truer than in sub-Saharan Africa.   No region has done less to cause climate change, yet sub-Saharan Africa is experiencing some of the earliest, most severe and most damaging effects. As a result, Africa’s leaders have every reason to support international efforts to address climate change. But these leaders also have to deal urgently with the disturbing reality behind Africa’s tiny carbon footprint: a crushing lack of modern energy.

Olympic opportunity: Renew the ideal of the global Games – by restoring the Olympics to their historic home

Christopher Colford's picture

Wasting billions of dollars, time and time again, to stage self-indulgent sports spectacles is no way for any society to build shared prosperity for the long term. But just try explaining that common-sense economic logic to the sports-crazed cities that keep lining up to purchase a moment of fleeting fame – and that end up squandering vast sums, by building use-once-throw-away “white elephants” for one-off events like the Olympic Games or the World Cup soccer tournament.

The sports-industrial complex continues to beguile the gullible and the grandiose, even though scholars have long warned of the futility of sports-event-driven spending. Beijing spent about $40 billion to host the 2008 Summer Games, and Sochi spent upwards of $50 billion to stage the 2014 Winter Games – while Brazil spent $20 billion to host (and heartbreakingly lose) the final rounds of 2014 World Cup soccer. Not to be outdone for extravagance and excess, Qatar reportedly plans to spend as much as $200 billion for the 2022 festivities.

Like the deluded leaders of declining Rome – who distracted their once-industrious city into passivity by pacifying the populace with what the poet Juvenal derided as panem et circenses: "bread and circuses" – modern-day civic leaders are allowing their obsession with media-moment athletic fame to trample economic logic. The scale of their civic hubris – and the malign self-interest of the construction firms, financiers, flacks and fixers who goad credulous Olympic-wannabe cities into wanton overspending – is insightfully dissected in a valuable new book, “Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup,” by Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of economics at Smith College.

In recent remarks at the World Bank, Zimbalist deplored the reckless rush that stampedes many cities into bleeding their civic coffers in the quest for Olympic notoriety. The saddest example may be the city of Montreal, whose debt from the 1976 Summer Games burdened the sorry city for 30 years.

Yet the suckers keep taking the bait. Boston, said Zimbalist, recently put forth an extravagant multibillion-dollar bid for the 2024 Summer Games – and only later, after the initial headlines and hoopla had abated, did more complete statistics reveal the likely scale of Boston’s folly. And, of course, the Olympic organizers would again stick the long-suffering taxpayers with the bill for any revenue shortfall.

Zimbalist’s logic is a wake-up call for those who somehow imagine that “this time is different” – that one-shot wonders might somehow produce long-term economic benefits. Some occasional exceptions suggest how very rare it is that optimists are rewarded: London, for example, may have gained a much-needed morale boost after its successful 2012 Summer Games, and two (but only two) Olympic festivals actually turned a profit – both of them in Los Angeles, which shrewdly re-used some of its 1936 Olympic facilities when it again played host to the Summer Games in 1984. But for most cities – Montreal in 1976, Sarajevo in 1984Athens in 2004 and many more – the money spent on soon-to-crumble stadia, ski jumps and swimming pools was a diversion from urgent human needs and productive investment.

Zimbalist makes a compelling case – yet beyond the diagnosis of the malady, one seeks a prescription to cure it. Can such Olympic megalomania be tamed? Are there other ways to build, and pay for, worthy sports facilities that honor the spirit of the Olympic Games while avoiding the overspending that bleeds their hosts dry?

A potential solution arose amid Zimbalist’s recent World Bank discussion. Rather than build one-shot Olympic facilities that are destined to be discarded as soon as each extravaganza is finished, why not build just one enduring set of permanent Olympic facilities that can be refurbished and re-used, year after year? Build it right, and build it only once: That way, the cost of building and maintaining an Olympic complex could be spread over generations.

Pursuing that solution seems especially timely right now, and here's why. Where is the historically logical place to locate such a permanent Olympic site? Why, in Greece, of course, where the Olympics originated in 776 B.C. and continued until 393 A.D. There could be no more authentic place to have today’s marathoners run than in Marathon itself – no more meaningful place to have skiers schuss than on Mount Olympus, or to have boaters ply the very waters that warmed Odysseus’ odyssey.

Sesame Street, World Bank apply behavioral and educational insight to scale up sanitation and hygiene

Stephen Sobhani's picture
Sesame Street’s Global Health Ambassador
Raya and math expert Count von Count at
World Bank HQ. Characters © Sesame
Workshop. All rights reserved. Photo
​© Simone D. McCourtie/World Bank

Stephen Sobhani, Sesame Workshop's Vice President, International, and Junaid Ahmad, World Bank Group Senior Director for Water, wrote a blog for The Huffington Post. Read an excerpt below and continue reading on The Huffington Post.

A bright, green global ambassador for life-saving hygiene habits from Sesame Street -- the world's largest informal educator of children. Unprecedented investments in water and sanitation from the World Bank Group -- the world's largest development financier. What do Sesame Street and the World Bank Group have in common? Far more than you think...

Cutting through the Gordian Knot: Analysis of conflict and violence

Bernard Harborne's picture

Alexander cutting the Gordian KnotA young Palestinian participating in a violence prevention session during a recent World Bank Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience (GSURR) staff retreat, reminisced that not that long ago the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the only “hot-spot” in the Middle East. Now, the region is a complex mix of insurrection, armed conflict, political upheaval and displacement. Even for him, unbundling and explaining the drivers and implications of these dynamics can be overwhelming – and a full-time job.

Increasingly, development actors are asked to take on this task, yet many of the World Bank’s standard analytical approaches are not suitable for this kind of complexity. Meanwhile, academics including Ben Ramalingam (Aid on the Edge of Chaos), Thomas Carothers (Development Aid Confronts Politics) and Lant Pritchet (Escaping Capability Traps Through Problem-driven Adaptive Iteration) all highlight the dangers of external intervention in these “difficult operating environments” without sufficient understanding of the underlying context.

Ongoing work over the last few years in the Bank’s GSURR Global Practice, completed together with the Fragility Conflict and Violence (FCV) Group, has focused on in-depth analysis of why and how particular countries descend into conflict, the impact of violence, and the factors that can build resilience against these shocks. Some 25 of these “fragility assessments” have been completed and they are all part of an effort to strengthen the overall understanding of the “context complexity” in these countries.

What does “urban” mean?

Chandan Deuskar's picture
Follow the author on Twitter: @cd_planner

This aerial view of Hanoi, Vietnam, clearly shows areas of decreasing density between the city and the countryside, making it hard to define the limits of the "urban" area.
Anyone reading this blog is likely to have heard the statistic that ‘over half of the world’s population now lives in urban areas’. This has been the standard opening line of reports and presentations about urbanization since this milestone was supposedly reached in 2008. But what does it really mean?

In everyday usage, terms related to human settlements have vague, shifting meanings. What one person might describe as a small ‘city’ might be a ‘town’ or ‘village’ for someone else; one person’s ‘megacity’ might be a cluster of cities from a different perspective. Similarly, we can usually identify areas that are clearly within a city and others that are outside it, but there is usually a peri-urban area of intermediate density that usually lies between the two, making it hard to define a clear city limit. Formal administrative boundaries may have historic or political meaning, but are rarely aligned with the physical or economic extents of the urban area.

What exactly is a city? It depends who you ask

It turns out there is no standard international definition of an ‘urban’ area or ‘urban’ population. Each country has its own definition, and collects data accordingly. The statistic that 50% of the world’s population is urban is arrived at simply by adding up these incomparable, and sometimes conflicting, definitions.

How does accessibility re-frame our projects?

Tatiana Peralta Quiros's picture
The increasing availability of standardized transport data and computing power is allowing us to understand the spatial and network impacts of different transportation projects or policies. In January, we officially introduced the OpenTripPlannerAnalyst (OTPA) Accessibility Tool. This open-source web-based tool allows us to combine the spatial distribution of the city (for example, jobs or schools), the transportation network and an individual’s travel behavior to calculate the ease with which an individual can access opportunities.

Using the OTPA Accessibility tool, we are unlocking the potential of these data sets and analysis techniques for modeling block-level accessibility. This tool allows anyone to model the interplay of transportation and land use in a city, and the ability to design transportation services that more accurately address citizens’ needs – for instance, tailored services connecting the poor or the bottom 40 percent to strategic places of interest.

In just a couple of months, we have begun to explore the different uses of the tool, and how it can be utilized in an operational context to inform our projects.
Employment Accessibility Changes in Lima,
Metro Line 2. TTL: Georges Darido

Comparing transportation scenarios
The most obvious use of the tool is to compare the accessibility impacts of different transportation networks. The tool allows users to upload different transportation scenarios, and compare how the access to jobs changes in the different parts of the city. In Lima, Peru, we were able to compare the employment accessibility changes that were produced by adding a new metro line. It also helped us understand the network and connectivity impacts of the projects, rather than relying on only travel times.

Understanding spatial form
However, the tool’s uses are not limited to comparing transport scenarios. Combining the tool with earth observation data to identify the location of slums and social housing, we are to explore the spatial form of a city and the accessibility opportunities that are provided to a city’s most vulnerable population.  We did so in Buenos Aires, Argentina, were we combined LandScan data and outputs from the tool to understand the employment accessibility options available to the city’s poorest population groups.

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.