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A year of building sustainable communities in 12 stories

Andy Shuai Liu's picture
What are some of the key issues that will shape global development in 2017?

​From addressing the forced displacement crisis to helping indigenous communities, and from implementing the “New Urban Agenda” to enhancing resilience to disasters and climate change, one thing is clear: we must step up efforts to build and grow economies and communities that are inclusive, resilient, and sustainable for all—especially for the poor and vulnerable.
 
In the timeline below, revisit some of the stories on sustainable development that resonated the most with you last year, and leave a comment to let us know what you wish to see more of in our “Sustainable Communities” blog series in 2017.

The “human scale” in public urban areas

Judy Zheng Jia's picture

Slideshow: Reimagining a park, a river, and other public spaces in Seoul (Photos by Judy Zheng Jia / World Bank)

"If you lose the human scale, the city becomes an ugly place," said Joan Clos, Executive Director of the UN-HABITAT at the Habitat III Conference last month. But more than being "ugly," the lack of good public urban spaces, such as open spaces, parks, and public buildings, often contribute to low livability in many of the world's congested and polluted cities. In fact, the importance of the issue received recognition in SDG 11, Target 7, which calls for the provision of “universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green, and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons, and persons with disabilities,” by 2030.
 
Global experience shows that disconnected, underutilized areas in urban settings can, instead, be opened up to a variety of uses to allow for improved social inclusion, social mixing, civic participation, recreation, safety, and a sense of belonging, ultimately contributing to urban prosperity. Well-designed and well-managed public spaces also offer benefits to environmental sustainability, transport efficiency, and public health improvements, and can equally serve women, the disabled, and people of all ages.

The importance of good urban spaces was the topic of an international workshop—“Vitalizing Cities with Public Space”—held in Seoul on November 14-17, 2016 and co-hosted by the Korea Research Institute of Human Settlements and the World Bank’s Urbanscapes Group. Eight cities from around the world—Seoul, Singapore, Buenos Aires, Chongqing, Kakamega, Zanzibar, Astana, and Tashkent—participated to discuss challenges and opportunities for better urban planning and design.

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.

Can Singapore become a role model for quickly-growing cities?

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
In the 1960s, Singapore was struggling with limited resources, a small domestic market, and high unemployment. Living standards were low, with most residents living in crowded, unsanitary slums.
 
Today's picture couldn't be any more different: in the span of just a few decades, the city-state has completely reinvented itself to become a model of urban innovation, consistently topping international rankings for livability and competitiveness.
 
But Singapore's transformation was no happy accident. This success story is the result of an innovative and carefully executed vision that looks at all aspects of urban development in a cohesive way. Singaporean leaders and urban planners have integrated land use, housing, transport, and natural resources management into one coherent, long-term strategy so they can work in sync and reinforce each other.
 
In this video, Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez and Abhas Jha take a closer look at the city's urban development approach, and describe how other countries can draw on Singapore's experience to build sustainable, livable cities.

Can other cities be as competitive as Singapore?

Sameh Wahba's picture
 Joyfull/Shutterstock
Photo: Joyfull/Shutterstock
Singapore is an example of one of the most competitive cities in Asia and in the world. Many, many other cities want to be the next Singapore. In fact, Singapore has been so successful that some believe that its success cannot be emulated. They forget that in the 1960s, Singapore faced several challenges – high unemployment, a small domestic market, limited natural resources, not to mention that most of the population lived in overcrowded unsanitary conditions in slums. Challenges that would sound very familiar to a large number of cities in the developing world.

And so, what better place than Singapore for the Asia Launch of the Competitive Cities for Jobs and Growth: What, Who & How report. The World Bank Group, along with the Centre for Liveable Cities and International Enterprise Singapore co-sponsored the launch as part of Urban Week held in Singapore from 8-11 March, 2016. The roundtable was attended by over 100 delegates representing cities from 23 countries.

The competitiveness potential for cities is enormous. Almost 19 million extra jobs, annually, could be created globally if cities performed at the level of the top quartile of competitive cities. Of this potential, more than 1/3, i.e. equivalent to an additional 7 million jobs, comes from cities in East Asia. Between 2000 and 2010, nearly 200 million people moved to East Asia's urban centers – these people will need jobs. Where will these jobs come from? How will they be generated?

Learning to leverage climate action in cities

Abha Joshi-Ghani's picture
All climate action is ultimately local. At the center of this is city leadership and engaged citizens. It is estimated that cities are responsible for 2/3 of global energy consumption and produce 80 % of the world’s GDP. Density creates the possibility of doing more with less, and with a smaller carbon footprint. While urban areas are responsible for more than 70 % of global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, it is cities that can make a difference by effectively tackling climate change. We often find that cities lead the way on climate action against the inertia of national governments.
 
We already see a large number of cities taking the lead in sustainability through innovative financing mechanisms, technological advances, policy and regulatory reforms, efficient use of land and transport, waste reduction, energy efficiency measures, and reduction of GHG emissions.
 
What is needed now for scaling this up is systematic knowledge exchange and learning among cities. Peer-to-peer learning is a powerful tool once contextualized and adapted to the particular socio-economic and political context. Iterative learning with feedback loops can help in finding transformative solutions.

Singapore Hub gives cities a chance to "learn from the best"

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
Despite limited resources, Singapore has defied the odds to become a high-income nation as well as a global trade and financial center - all in just a few decades. The city is also hailed as model of sustainable urban development, consistently receiving high praise for its high-quality infrastructure, reliable mass transit system, and abundance of green spaces.
 
Inspired by Singapore's successful and forward-thinking vision, the World Bank chose the city-state as the site for its first Infrastructure and Urban Development Hub. Aside from traditional lending and technical support to client countries, the Singapore Hub has been designed to facilitate knowledge exchange between Singapore and other countries on issues relating to urban planning and management.
 
Jordan Schwartz, its Director, tells us more about the role of the Singapore Hub as a global knowledge platform for sustainable urban development.

Using green infrastructure to control urban floods: a win-win for cities

Zuzana Stanton-Geddes's picture
Photo: Eugene Phoen/Flickr
Photo: Eugene Phoen/Flickr

We have all come across people whose homes have beautiful and always blooming plants and flowers – people with a so-called “green thumb”.

But did you know that cities too can have a “green thumb”? Singapore is certainly one of those cities. 

Also known as the "garden city”, Singapore is set to become a "city in a garden”. The abundance of greenery is a striking feature, with parks, green roofs, street side plants, and trees on every corner.

But greenery is not there just to please the eye and create livable public areas — it also helps mitigate the risk of flooding.


Singapore, like many other densely-populated cities, is at risk of flooding. One way to tackle this is by greening public spaces and encouraging private development to follow the principles of the government’s flagship “ABC” program, which looks to make water “Active, Beautiful and Clean”. Carefully planned and implemented, investments in so-called “green infrastructure” are paying off: they make the city more resilient and more sustainable in the long-term, and also create more spaces for people to meet and interact.

Although Singapore’s dedication to greening public spaces is remarkable, it is not the only city that is getting its hands “dirty” to promote natural ecosystems. The Netherlands has been promoting green approaches in urban planning for many years now, with the innovative redesign of sewer systems, or the creation of multi-functional “water squares” which can hold storm water when rain is heavy while otherwise serving as a social space.

What Vietnam can learn from Singapore about flood risk management

Linh X. Le's picture
Overview of Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, Singapore. Photo: Stefan/Flickr
As Vietnamese, we look very fondly to Singapore as a model for development in the region, especially fostered by a close relationship between Vietnamese leaders and the former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew—Singapore's founder and mastermind behind all its modern-day achievements. Singapore represents modernity and civilization, notably with limited natural resources. The city-state has proved an applicable model of development for cities in Vietnam to achieve not only competitiveness but also sustainability and inclusiveness.
 
I just returned to Vietnam after attending the World Bank’s first-ever Urban Week in Singapore, a series of events that brought together city leaders from across Asia and beyond to explore innovative approaches to urban planning and management.
 
A topic that cut across all these areas is flood risk management, which was featured extensively during the launch event of the Global Platform for Sustainable Cities. I had the opportunity to learn more about the role of green mitigation infrastructure in integrated urban flood risk management, with lessons from Japan, Korea, Sri Lanka, Senegal, and the Netherlands. In these countries, green structures such as retarding basins, permeable pavement, and rainwater storage or infiltration trench have complemented conventional structural measures to reduce flood risk in a cost-effective manner.
 

Singapore: The Pelé of urban design

Abhas Jha's picture

Photo: Nicolas Lannuzel/Flickr
Who is the best soccer player of all time? A Google search will offer this name: Edson Arantes do Nascimento, popularly known as Pelé. Kicking off in 1958 as a 17 year old World Cup winner, Pele bookmarked his brilliant career a dozen years later with another World Cup triumph for Brazil. 
 
I like to think of Singapore as the Pelé of urban design. The city regularly appears in the top ranks of globally livableconnected and competitive cities. Pelé once famously said, "Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice, and, most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do”. There is no doubt that Singapore’s accomplishments have been made possible by the hard work, perseverance and far-sightedness of its policy makers.
 
2013 speech by Peter Ho, Chairman of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, outlines the careful thought, planning and attention to detail behind Singapore’s urban policy, particularly the decisions, influence and foresight of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew over the decades of development. One astonishing success has been the provision of affordable housing and the care with which each neighborhood has been designed, taking care of the smallest details, in order to ensure social cohesion and a sense of community. These details include provisions for hawker centers and high quality public green spaces.

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