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All I need is the air that I breathe…

Anna Gueorguieva's picture

Also available in: 中文

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.

Why should cities invest in public parks?

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
Cities are Brazil’s economic powerhouse—they produce almost 90% of the GDP and are the major drivers of the country’s growth and development. Rapid and unplanned urbanization, however, has led to issues such as concentrated poverty, insufficient access to basic services, and a lack of quality public spaces. Public spaces, such as parks, help enhance livability, while also building up resilience to natural disasters, reducing pollution, and enabling inclusive growth.
 
Fortaleza is a coastal city of 2.6 million in the northeast of Brazil. Its sprawling growth has now given way to stark inequality and major spatial divides. Lack of investment and inadequate planning have also led to environmental degradation.

In an effort to address these challenges, the municipality has partnered with the World Bank through the Fortaleza Sustainable Urban Development Project to improve public spaces and rehabilitate areas of the Vertente Marítima Basin and of the Rachel de Queiroz Park. In January 2017, the project was recognized by UN Habitat for innovative practices for the implementation of the New Urban Agenda.

In this video, World Bank Senior Director Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez and Project Lead Emanuela Monteiro discuss the initiative and how it aims to make the city more livable, competitive, and resilient.


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.

Ahead of the next Habitat conference, the urban world we want

Sameh Wahba's picture


There is no better way to mark this year’s World Cities Day than reflecting on the adoption of the New Urban Agenda at the recent Habitat III conference in Quito. The agenda reaffirms the political commitment to sustainable urbanization and provides a framework to guide global urban development over the next 20 years, based on a shared vision of cities that are inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

In an era of rapid urbanization and climate change, managing urban growth sustainably and building cities that work is indeed one of our most pressing development challenges.

Already, more than half of the global population — nearly 4 billion people — live in urban areas. Two decades from now, that number will grow to 5.5 billion — more than 60 percent of the world’s population. At the same time, the total built-up area of the world’s cities is expected to be double by 2030 what it is today, if not more.

Because urban-planning decisions lock cities in for generations, what policymakers decide in these two decades will make or break cities’ sustainable future for the rest of this century. With that in mind, one may ask: What will the world look like when Habitat IV takes place in 20 years?

I can imagine two opposite ends of the spectrum.

Planting healthy air: a natural solution to address pollution and heat in cities

Robert McDonald's picture


Can nature help cities address the twin problems of air that is too dirty or too hot? Based on a new report released by The Nature Conservancy – in collaboration with C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group - the answer appears to be a qualified “yes.”
 
The Planting Healthy Air report identifies the potential return on investment from tree planting in 245 global cities, which currently house about a quarter of the world’s urban population. By collecting and analyzing geospatial information on forest and land cover, particulate matter, and population density and leveraging existing literature, the study estimates the scope of current and future street trees to make urban air healthier. The benefits that trees could afford to cities will be even more crucial in the future, the study finds, as a quarter million people could die each year because of urban heat by 2050, unless cities take proactive steps to adapt to global warming.

Investing in resilient cities can help the urban poor

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
By 2030, without efforts to boost urban resilience, climate change may push up to 77 million urban residents into poverty.
 
The good news is that the world has a brief window of opportunity to make cities more resilient to climate change, natural disasters, and other stresses, as almost 60% of the urban area that will be built by 2030 is yet to be developed.

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.

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.

Building sustainable cities starts with smart urban design

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
The global conversation about urban sustainability focuses primarily on the big picture: how to reduce the carbon footprint and energy consumption of cities? How can we provide the infrastructure and services necessary to meet the needs of a soaring urban population? How can cities create enough jobs for everyone?
 
These issues are critically important, no doubt. But what about the city itself as a physical space? What should a sustainable city "look like"? Are there any big design principles that all successful urban planners should follow?
 
Because urbanization is often a chaotic process, many countries feel like they don't have the time or resources to address those questions. Yet evidence has shown that considerations about urban form and design are anything but cosmetic: creating vibrant public spaces within a city, for instance, can boost competitiveness, improve health outcomes, and strengthen social cohesion.
 
In this video, Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez and Jon Kher Kaw delve deeper into the linkages between urban spaces and sustainability, and describe the many benefits that come with a well-designed city.
 
If you want to learn more about this topic, we invite you to discover our latest Sustainable Communities podcast.
 
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