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East Asia and Pacific

Once Southeast Asia’s trading hub, Melaka strengthens urban planning for a sustainable future in Malaysia

Adeline Choy's picture
In the 15th century, few places in Southeast Asia rivalled Melaka as a trading hub – a strategic conduit for the bustling spice trade. As traders from the region settled in the area and contributed to a melting pot of cultures, Melaka transformed into a hub known for its diversity, resilience, and innovation.
 
Christ Church Melaka
Creative Commons Christ Church Melaka by Martin Pilát is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


Melaka retains its reputation for openness, and is extending it beyond cultural heritage into development solutions. The Malaysian state is host to the country’s first solar farm and a large new port, and the Melaka City’s riverfront is being transformed into a picturesque tourist attraction.

The city’s recent launch of the first Sustainable City Development project in Malaysia  enhances this transformation.
 
In addition to being the first of its kind in Malaysia, this is also the first city-led project for the Global Partnership for Sustainable Cities, or GPSC, which strives to integrate sustainability into urban planning.

There are otters in the city

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture

Photo by budak via Flickr CC

When a family of 10 smooth-coated otters appeared in Singapore’s urban downtown of Marina Bay last year, the city was ablaze with excitement and delight. Who would have thought that these otters would make a dense urban environment like Singapore home? After all, otters were thought to have vanished in the 1970s as Singapore rapidly developed into a dense metropolis.
 
Was this a fad? Probably. Was this a big deal? Absolutely. In a small city-state where land is considered a scarce resource, the tension between urban development and biodiversity conservation can be very pronounced. This was not the case in Singapore. Between 1986 and 2010, as Singapore’s urban population doubled from 2.7 to 5 million, its green cover also increased from 36% to 50%, all within the confines of just 710 square kilometers. The increase in green cover in urbanized Singapore was seen as a sign that the efforts by the urban planning agency, parks and water management boards had paid off, and a testament that the natural environment could be indeed be integrated effectively into the urban fabric of the city.
 
Today is World Environment Day. This year, it celebrates the theme of “connecting people to nature,” and invites us to think about how we are part of nature—and how intimately we depend on it.

Social inclusion essential for eradicating poverty

Lauri Sivonen's picture

The social inclusion of disadvantaged groups is necessary for reducing poverty and boosting shared prosperity, said government representatives, experts, and civil society representatives at a World Bank seminar on Friday, April 21. Persons with disabilities, Indigenous Peoples, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons form a large part of the world population affected by poverty. They often face multiple discrimination and exclusion because of their overlapping identities, stressed Maitreyi Das, Social Inclusion Global Lead at the World Bank Group. 

Patricia Peña, Director General for Economic Development of Global Affairs, Canada, highlighted the commitment of Canada—through its foreign assistance, diplomacy, and domestic efforts—to support policies and programs addressing economic and social inclusion of LGBTI people. Disaggregated data collection is one of the priorities for developing effective responses. Harry Patrinos, Practice Manager at the Bank’s Education Global Practice, made a cross-country assessment of poverty among Indigenous Peoples. Ulrich Zachau, the World Bank’s Country Director for Southeast Asia, discussed the Bank’s ground-breaking data generation efforts on LGBTI persons in Thailand. There is a need to find a shared way of measuring disability, said Nick Dyer, Director General of Policy and Global Programmes at the UK Department for International Development.

View tweets from the session below. Learn more about the World Bank's work on social inclusion, disability, indigenous peoples, as well as sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). 

Mapping and measuring urban places: Are we there yet? (Part 2/2)

David Mason's picture
Photo by Anton Balazh via Shutterstock

My previous blog post surveyed some of the recent trends in developing global measures of urbanization. In this post, I want to turn to a brief discussion for scholars and practitioners on some possible applications and areas of focus for ongoing work:
 
[Download draft paper "Bright Lights, Big Cities: a Review of Research and Findings on Global Urban Expansion"]
 
While there are a number of different maps for documenting urban expansion, each has different strengths and weaknesses in application. Coarser resolution maps such as MODIS can be used for mapping the basic contours of artificial built-up areas in regional and comparative scales. On the other hand, high-resolution maps are best suited for individual cities, as algorithms can be used to identify and classify observed colors, textures, shading, and patterns into different types of land uses. These levels of detail are difficult to use for reliable comparisons between cities as the types of building materials, structure shapes, light reflectivity, and other factors can vary widely between countries and regions.
 
Nonetheless, there are a number of applications for policymakers in this regard, from identifying and mapping green spaces and natural hazard risks to identifying and tracking areas of new growth, such as informal settlements. However, such approaches to land use detection require careful calibration of these automated methods, such as cross referencing with other available maps, or by “ground truthing” with a sample of  street-level photos of various types of buildings and land cover as reference inputs for automation. One solution to this is the use of social media and geo-coded data to confirm and monitor changes in urban environments alongside the use of high-resolution satellite imagery.
 
Nighttime light maps also have gained traction as measures of urban extent and as ways to gauge changes in economic activity in large urban centers. They are probably less useful for documenting smaller settlements, which may be dimmer or have little significant variation in brightness. It is important to correct these types of maps for “overglow” measurement effects—where certain light may “bleed” or obscure the shapes and forms of very large, bright urban areas in relation to adjacent smaller and dimmer settlements (newer VIIRs maps have made some important advances in correcting this).

Urban jungles in jeopardy

Ivo Germann's picture
Why the world’s cities are at risk – and what we can do to make them more resilient



We may not know exactly what the world will look like in two decades, but we know this: it is going to be a world of cities.
 
The global population is becoming increasingly urban, and at an astonishing rate. Each year, urban areas are growing by an average of more than 75 million people – more than the population of the world’s 85 smallest countries combined.
 
For the world’s economy, this is great news, since cities produce 80 percent of global GDP, despite currently being home to only 55 percent of the population. But it is a problem for urban infrastructure, which can’t keep up with such fast-paced growth. As a result, cities, already vulnerable, are becoming increasingly susceptible to natural disasters – from flooding and landslides that can decimate informal housing settlements, to earthquakes that can devastate power grids and water systems.
 
These risks could be disastrous for the urban poor, 881 million of whom currently live in slums (up 28 percent since 2000). And climate change – which is increasing the intensity and frequency of natural disasters – will only exacerbate the problem. For this reason, multilateral and government institutions now see resilience and climate adaptation as integral pillars of development.
 
The Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), for example, considers low-emission and climate-resilient economies to be key to global competitiveness. A recent report by the World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) found that climate change may force up to 77 million urban residents into poverty by 2030 – unless we take action to improve the resilience of cities around the world.

In China, conserving the past helps the poor build a brighter future

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
How cultural heritage and sustainable tourism help reduce poverty
 
China has seen a booming tourism industry during the last few decades, thanks to a fast-developing economy and growing disposable personal income. In 2015 alone, the travel and tourism sector contributed to 7.9% of China’s GDP, and 8.4% of the country’s total employment. Not surprisingly, cultural heritage sites were among the most popular tourist destinations.

But beyond the well-known Great Wall and Forbidden City, many cultural heritage sites are located in the poorer, inland cities and provinces of the country. If managed sustainably, tourism in these areas can serve as a unique opportunity to help local communities—especially ethnic minorities, youth, and women—find jobs, grow incomes, and improve livelihoods.
 
“[Sustainable tourism] is not only the conservation of the cultural assets that are very important for the next generations to come, but, also, it’s the infrastructure upgrading, it’s the housing upgrading, and it is the social inclusion to really preserve the ethnic minorities’ culture and values – it is an interesting cultural package that is very valuable for countries around the world,” says Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez, a Senior Director of the World Bank.
 
To help reduce poverty and inequality in China’s lagging regions, the World Bank has committed to a long-term partnership with China on cultural heritage and sustainable tourism—with the Bank’s largest program of this kind operating around 20 projects across the country. These projects have supported local economic development driven by cultural tourism.
 
“Over the years, the program has helped conserve over 40 cultural heritage sites, and over 30 historic urban neighborhoods, towns, and villages,” according to Judy Jia, a Beijing-based Urban Analyst.
  
Watch a video to learn from Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez (@Ede_WBG) and Judy Jia how cultural heritage and sustainable tourism can promote inclusive growth and boost shared prosperity in China, and what other countries can learn from this experience.



Also available in: 中文

All I need is the air that I breathe…

Anna Gueorguieva's picture

Also available in: 中文, Français

Photo by Jens Schott Knudsen via Flickr CC

Recent research shows that air quality affects the productivity of high-skilled workers. What does this mean for developing cities?

City governments invest a lot in job creation—they plan infrastructure, skills initiatives, and industry support with the goal to improve productivity and generate jobs and growth, especially in the high-skill sectors. Yet, there might be an important input to productivity that cities can pay more attention to: clean air.

Recent research suggests that a 10-unit increase in the air quality index decreases productivity by 0.35%. Seems marginal? This “productivity slow-down” costs the high-skill economy of China $2.2 billion per year for each additional 10 units of the air quality index.

The research in question studied the effect of air pollution on worker productivity in call centers in Shanghai and Nantong in China. The firm analyzed is Ctrip, one of the largest travel agencies in the country, employing more than 30,000 people. 50% of the workers’ pay is based on performance and the measures of productivity are very detailed and high frequency. The study concluded that there is a robust relationship between daily air pollution levels and worker productivity. On average, a 10-unit increase in the Air Quality Index (AQI) led to a 0.35% decline in the number of calls handled by a worker in a day at an AQI of 100. If we translate this to the entire Chinese high-skill industries, a 10-unit reduction of air pollution levels would increase the monetized value of improved productivity by $2.2 billion per year.

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.

Are we listening to our ancestors’ warnings?

Ko Takeuchi's picture
Also available in: 日本語
Also available in: Russian
Photo via Wikimedia Commons
The “miracle pine,” a 250-year-old tree that survived the 2011 tsunami in Japan, has been preserved as a memorial to the 19,000 victims of the disaster. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

In disaster risk management, we often pay close attention to the latest technological boosts to better understand risks and help communities prepare for the next disaster. While such efforts are commendable, I noticed that insightful messages from our ancestors can also help us better anticipate tomorrow’s disaster risks.

Such messages teach us how to keep hazards away from people (reducing existing risks) as well as how to keep people away from hazards (avoid creating new risks). On my latest trip to Japan, we hosted government officials from Armenia, Kyrgyz Republic, and Tajikistan as part of an experts’ visit focusing on disaster risk management, acting on Japan’s rich culture of passing on such decisive messages to future generations.

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