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Urban Development

‘Smartest Places’ via smarter strategies: Sharpening competitiveness requires ingenuity, not inertia

Christopher Colford's picture

Seeking an antidote to the gloom-and-doom bombast of this election year? Try a dose of optimism about urban“hotspot hustle and cutting-edge cool” – with a book that champions smart public policy, delivered through a shrewd approach to Competitiveness Strategy.

Gazing into the rear-view mirror is a mighty reckless way to try to drive an economy forward. Yet backward-looking nostalgia for a supposedly safer economic past – with voters' anxiety being stoked by snide sloganeering about “taking back our sovereignty” and “making the country great again” – has infected the policy debate throughout this dispiriting election year, in many of the world’s advanced economies. Scapegoating globalization and inflaming fears of job losses and wage stagnation, populists have harangued all too many voters into a state of passivity, lamenting the loss of a long-ago era (if ever it actually existed) when inward-looking economies were, allegedly, insulated from global competition.


Optimism has been in short supply lately, but an energetic new book – co-authored by a prominent World Bank Group alumnus – offers a hopeful perspective on how imaginative economies can become pacesetters in the fast-forward Knowledge Economy. Advanced industries are thriving and productivity is strengthening, argue Antoine Van Agtmael and Fred Bakker, now that many once-declining manufacturing regions have reinvented their industries and reawakened their entrepreneurial energies.

Welcome to the brainbelt,” declares “The Smartest Places On Earth: Why Rustbelts Are the Emerging Hotspots of Global Innovation” (published by Public Affairs books). Now that brainpower has replaced muscle-power as the basis of prosperity in an ever-more-competitive global economy, the key factor for success is "the sharing of knowledge." Longlisted for the Financial Times/McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award, “Smartest Places” is receiving well-deserved attention among corporate leaders and financial strategists – and it ought to be required reading for every would-be policymaker.

The era of “making things smart” has replaced the era of “making things cheap” – meaning that industries no longer face a “race to the bottom” of competing on costs but a “race to the top” of competing on creativity. Knowledge-intensive industries, and the innovation ecosystems that generate them, create the “Smartest Places” that combine hotspot hustle and cutting-edge cool.





Those optimistic themes may sound unusual to election-year audiences in struggling regions, which are easy prey for demagogues manipulating populist fears. Yet those ideas are certainly familiar to readers at the World Bank Group, where teams working on innovation, entrepreneurship and competitiveness have long helped their clients shape innovation ecosystems through well-targeted policy interventions that strengthen growth and job creation.

“Smartest Places,” it strikes me, reads like an evidence-filled validation of the Bank Group’s recent research on “Competitive Cities for Jobs and Growth.” That report, published last year, offers policymakers (especially at the city and metropolitan levels) an array of practical and proven steps that can help jump-start job creation by spurring productivity growth.

Safer buildings are the key to a disaster resilient future

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
A few months ago, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Ecuador claimed hundreds of lives, left almost 28,000 people injured, and caused $1 to 3 billion worth of damage. Most human and economic losses were directly linked to the collapse of buildings: the tremor caused the destruction of an estimated 10,000 structures, many of which were located in unsafe areas or did not meet minimum safety standards.
 
The tragedy in Ecuador serves as a stark reminder that, in many cases, it is not earthquakes or other disasters that kill people, but failing building structures. Therefore, improving building safety will be key in protecting communities against rising disaster and climate risk.
 
With over a billion dwelling units expected to be built between now and 2050, focusing on new construction will be particularly important, and will help mitigate the impact of natural disasters for generations to come.
 
The good news is that we have the knowledge and technology to build safe, resilient structures. But, more often than not, this knowledge is not put into practice due to insufficient or poorly-enforced regulation, as well as a lack of incentives.
 
In this video, Ede Ijjasz and Thomas Moullier explain why building safety will play a critical role in enhancing disaster resilience, and discuss concrete recommendations on how to get there.
 
If you want to learn more about this topic, we invite you to discover our latest Sustainable Communities podcast.
 
Related:

What our 10 best read blogs are telling us

Nicholas Charles Lord's picture
 Construction workers from Egypt are building stronger river banks along the Nile river to protect it from erosion. Photo © Dominic Chavez/World Bank

Summer is a time for reflection, for taking stock and seeing what is trending. So far this year, the Jobs Group has published 39 blogs on a wide range of topics. But what blogs have resonated most with our readers? Below you will find our most-read blog posts. In true top ten style, they are presented them in reverse order.

Olympic-sized ambition: Halt the Games' economic excess by building a permanent site for the Olympics — in Greece, their historic home

Christopher Colford's picture

Build it well, build it wisely, and build it only once — How investing to create a permanent site for the Olympic Games, ideally in their historic home of Greece, could reduce waste, deliver economic stimulus, and avoid "white elephant" monuments to extravagance.


The jeering of angry taxpayers and frustrated favela-dwellers may drown out some of the cheering of sports enthusiasts this weekend, as the 2016 Olympic Games begin in Rio de Janeiro. The government of Brazil and local officials in Rio have certainly done their best to stage the Games successfully, addressing a range of challenges that include the Zika virus outbreak, the doping scandal among athletes and the country’s prolonged economic slump and political traumas. Yet an enduring scandal in international finance — the chronic design flaw in the way that the Games are planned for and paid for — has again imposed an enormous economic burden on the Olympic host city. Struggling economies can ill afford the extravagance of repeatedly building use-once-throw-away sports facilities.

It was surely startling to see the deep degree of scorn and sarcasm with which many workaday Brazilians, who are now enduring a deep economic downturn, hurled derision at the arrival of the Olympic torch in Rio this week. They evidently saw that Olympic arrival ceremony as a symbol, not just of athletic ambition, but of financial folly.

The anxieties that Brazil has endured on the road to Rio 2016 should underscore a longer-term, Olympic-sized concern: Mismanagement by the Games' promoters has now been thoroughly documented, underscoring the abusive way that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the global sports-industrial complex have habitually foisted reckless costs on the taxpayers of hapless host cities.

By goading Olympic-wannabe cities to make ever-more-extravagant financial commitments – stoking their dreams of a media moment of purchased publicity – the mega-event industry has helped shatter the finances of one host city after another. No wonder that so many cities are now shunning the IOC’s bidding process, dreading the deadweight losses that are almost certain to burden any Olympic host.

Welcome as the IOC’s recent “Olympic Agenda 2020” reform proposals may be, it’s long past time to rein in the financial excesses of mega-event promoters. With a claque of financiers and flacks who are ready to manipulate the gullibility of the would-be hosts, the Olympic spirit has fallen victim to the self-interest of construction firms, property developers and publicists who seek to profit from host cities’ overspending.

An invaluable book documenting this Olympic-scale threat – discussed in detail at a World Bank’s InfoShop book-and-author seminar in June 2015 – should be top-of-mind for Olympics-watchers this week, as Rio de Janeiro enjoys its moment in the spotlight. “Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup” — by Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of economics at Smith College — can help other cities avoid an impulsive rush for momentary Olympic notoriety. A video of Zimbalist’s InfoShop presentation is archived at http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/PUBLICATION/INFOSHOP1/0,,contentMDK:20289125~pagePK:162350~piPK:165575~theSitePK:225714,00.html 

Will forcibly displaced Syrians get their land back?

Paul Prettitore's picture

 ART production / Shutterstock.com

With half the population of Syria forced from their homes as a result of the five-year-long civil war, now living either as refugees or internally displaced persons (IDPs), many are asking, “Will we be able to return to our original homes?” Recent changes to the legal framework in Syria governing the sale and purchase of private land raise concerns—both for the protection of land owned or long-occupied by displaced persons and for the development of any post-conflict land restitution process. Such regulations may also compound post-conflict reform of land administration practices and bring uncertainty to one of the few economic assets of displaced households.

The jobs challenges of urbanization in India and Pakistan

Michael Kugelman's picture
Michael Kugelman, guest blogger, is the senior associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC.
A busy train station in Mumbai, India. Photo: Simone D. McCourtie / World Bank

India and Pakistan are urbanizing at remarkably rapid rates. India’s urban population has increased from less than 20 percent of its overall population in 1951 to more than 30 percent today. In Pakistan, the share of the urban population—well under 20 percent in the 1960s, is more than a third today.

Housing is at the center of the sustainable development agenda

Aisa Kirabo Kacyira's picture
UN Habitat - Cover image from Housing at the Centre report

Clearly, a lot of what has gone wrong with cities is related in one way or another to housing. The future of urbanization will therefore depend on how countries and cities position housing as a priority in the public debate around sustainable development.

From slums to gated communities, from overcrowding to sprawl, from homelessness to the vacant houses, there is much evidence that housing is shaping cities worldwide, regretfully, in many cases, by producing fragmentation and inequalities. The resulting models are leading to social, environmental and financial costs far beyond what the majority of cities can afford.

UN-HABITAT: Housing at the Centre of the New Urban AgendaWhile the most common problem is the shortage of adequate and affordable housing and the unprecedented proliferation of slums, other important challenges lay in the poor quality and location of the stock usually far from job and livelihood opportunities, lack of accessibility and services. The housing challenge the world is facing today is likely to persist with six out of every ten people expected to reside in urban areas by 2030. Over 90 per cent of this growth will take place in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. It is estimated that the struggle to obtain adequate and affordable housing could affect at least 1.6 billion people globally within a decade.

We cannot overlook this reality. This is why, towards Habitat III, UN-Habitat has increased efforts to re-establish housing as a priority in the debate around sustainable urbanization. We are proposing the 'Housing at the Centre' approach to shift the focus from simply building houses to a holistic framework where housing is orchestrated with national and urban development in a way that benefits all people.

World Cities Summit – A festival of ideas for an urban world

Abhas Jha's picture
Photo courtesy of Michaela Lohelt through a Creative Commons license.
Photo courtesy of Michaela Loheit through a Creative Commons license.
Here is a pop quiz – where in the world, over the course of five days, can you talk to the architects of the remarkable turnaround of the city of Medellin, have a conversation with over 100 mayors and city leaders from across the world on the future of cities, and have access to literally hundreds of companies operating at the cutting edge of urban technologies in areas like desalination, solid waste management, and urban analytics? If you answered the World Cities Summit in Singapore next week, you would be right.
 
The Summit is a biannual event that is one of the premier showcases of the state of urban development around the world. The fact that it is being hosted by Singapore – a city-state that epitomizes livability, inclusion and sustainability – is particularly fitting. The World Bank’s Infrastructure and Urban Development Hub team is proud to partner with the Center for Livable Cities in participating in several events during the World Cities Summit, such as the Mayors Forum, an ADB learning event on Cities and Middle Income Countries, and thematic sessions on culture, municipal finance, and innovation. One of the benefits of large global events such as the World Cities Summit is the opportunity to meet city leaders, counterparts, partner agencies, and colleagues from across the world to discuss ways and means on how the World Bank Group can continue to support them in their development objectives.

Five reasons cities should take a leading role on food waste

John Morton's picture
Reported figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) on food loss and food waste highlight its importance to the global environment. Food loss and waste annually contribute 3.3 gigagrams of CO2 equivalent, or over twice the total emissions of India; waste 250 cubic kilometers of water which is equivalent to 100 million Olympic-sized swimming pools; and 1.4 billion hectares of agricultural land, an area larger than China. Considering that, if only 1/4 of the food lost or wasted across the globe could be recovered, it could feed 750 million people, it is also shocking when presented in the context of global food insecurity and hunger.
 
These statistics highlight the need to address the problem as global citizens. But if you look at it closer, the incentives for action are indeed very local, making cities—as the centers of consumption in the world—important game changers with strong reasons to take action.

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.

More people in less space: rapid urbanisation threatens global health
The Guardian

The global population looks set to rise to 9.7 billion people by 2050, when it is expected that more than two-thirds of humanity will be living in urban areas. The global health community is bracing itself. Compared to a more traditional rural existence, the shift in lifestyle and inevitable increase in exposure to pollution will lead to significant long-term rises in non-communicable diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. Worrying as this prospect may be, current population trends are already altering the global health landscape even faster than we realise, and that could pose far bigger and more immediate problems. When population growth is combined with other pressures, such as climate change and human migration, some parts of the world are likely to experience unprecedented levels of urban density.

How Being Stateless Makes You Poor
Foreign Policy
For the first 24 years of his life, third-generation Palestinian refugee Waseem Khrtabeel rarely noticed any difference between himself and his Syrian neighbors. Like his parents, Khrtabeel was born and raised in Damascus. He speaks with a distinct Syrian accent, just like that of his many Syrian friends. But Khrtabeel is not like other Syrians. He’s stateless.The first time Khrtabeel, 30, grasped the magnitude of that word was in early 2010, after graduating from Damascus University with a mechanical engineering degree. Khrtabeel was elated when he secured an interview with the Saudi Binladin Group, one of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent construction companies. On an unseasonably warm day in January, he arrived at the company’s recruiting office in southwestern Damascus promptly at 2 p.m., energized and confident. He was shown the door less than seven minutes later.


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