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Urban Development

Success when we deemed it failure? Revisiting sites and services 20 years later

Sumila Gulyani's picture
Between 1977 and 1997, the World Bank supported “sites and services” projects in 27 cities across India
A freshly-minted architect stood staring at a sea of toilets. Row after row of them, on small “housing plots” meant for low-income families who would build their house incrementally as their incomes and savings grew. The neighborhood was “planned” and provided with services—under a World Bank-supported “sites and services” project—to serve as the anti-thesis of and an antidote to the slums that were, at the time, increasingly becoming the only housing option for low-income families.

It was 1980 and the architect, Barjor Mehta, was deeply disappointed. There were no houses, no people and no chance that they would ever come, given the seemingly god-forsaken location—in an area called Arrumbakkam—so far from the city center in Madras (now Chennai). Having just completed his thesis on housing, he wrote a scathing news article in the Times of India denouncing the sites and services approach. Barjor wasn’t alone in his critique, and by the mid-1990s the World Bank had almost entirely abandoned such projects.

In October 2015, Barjor, now Lead Urban Specialist at the Bank, invited me to revisit Arumbakkam and other neighborhoods developed, between 1977 and 1997, under four Bank-supported sites and services projects: My team and I visited 15 of the 28 sites developed in Chennai and Mumbai. We also reviewed archival material, analyzed satellite images, and recently presented our preliminary findings. Now, Barjor and I agree that previous assessments of failure may have been both premature and erroneous. Why?

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.

The Global Urban Footprint: A map of nearly every human settlement on Earth

Thomas Esch's picture


Urbanization is increasingly central to the global development process, but until recently, basic spatial information on the world’s urban areas has been unavailable, inconsistent, or unreliable. The lack of consistent data on the world’s cities makes it hard to understand the overall impact of urbanization. However, innovations in geospatial mapping are now helping to provide one major piece of the puzzle:maps of practically all built-up areas around the world are available thanks to new uses of satellite data.
 
Scientists at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) have succeeded in using a newly developed method to map the world’s built spaces at an unprecedented spatial resolution, resulting in the ‘Global Urban Footprint’ (GUF), a global map of human settlements at a spatial resolution of 12 meters per grid cell (aggregated to 75m for public use).
 
The German radar satellites TerraSAR X and TanDEM X acquired over 180,000 images between 2010 and 2013, which were processed, together with additional data such as digital terrain models, to produce the Global Urban Footprint. In total, the researchers processed over 20 million datasets with a combined volume of more than 320 terabytes.

From the “Laguna” to the Delta: Can lessons from Venice help us manage flood risk in Vietnam?

Linh X. Le's picture
A satellite view of Venice and the surrounding lagoon. Upon completion of the MOSE project in 2018, a series of flood gates between the lagoon and the Adriatic Sea will protect the city from high tide and storm surges.
Upon completion of the MOSE project in 2018, a series of flood gates between Venice's Lagoon and the Adriatic Sea will protect the city from high tide and storm surges. Credit: NASA
Venice may seem like an unlikely location for an international development conference. But even though the Italian city is best known for its touristic appeal, it also turned out to be the perfect setting for the Understanding Risk Forum 2016, where representatives from 125 countries exchanged knowledge on disaster risk management and explored ways of adapting global lessons to their own local context.
 
At merely 1 meter above sea level, Venice has had its fair share of natural disasters, especially floods. In 1966, the record-high 194-cm flood had severe consequences on the Old Venice, causing an estimated $6 million worth of damage (1966 US dollars). Given the city’s touristic and historical significance to Italy and the world, protection from flood is a top priority.
 
That's why the Government of Italy has invested over €5.5 billion on the MOSE Project, which involves constructing 4 mobile barriers at the mouth of the water basin to the sea in order to better control high tide and prevent it from flooding the Old Venice. Each barrier consists of several energy-efficient flap gates that can be deployed quickly when high tide occurs, maintaining the ideal water level in the basin while safeguarding the natural ecosystem in the laguna area. Once the project is completed in 2018, it should fully protect the city, and allow future generations to admire the beauty of its glory days.

How to implement “open innovation” in city government

Victor Mulas's picture
City officials are facing increasingly complex challenges. As urbanization rates grow, cities face higher demand for services from a larger and more densely distributed population. On the other hand, rapid changes in the global economy are affecting cities that struggle to adapt to these changes, often resulting in economic depression and population drain.
 
“Open innovation” is the latest buzz word circulating in forums on how to address the increased volume and complexity of challenges for cities and governments in general.
 
But, what is open innovation?
 
Traditionally, public services were designed and implemented by a group of public officials. Open innovation allows us to design these services with multiple actors, including those who stand to benefit from the services, resulting in more targeted and better tailored services, often implemented through partnership with these stakeholders. Open innovation allows cities to be more productive in providing services while addressing increased demand and higher complexity of services to be delivered.
 
New York, Barcelona, Amsterdam and many other cities have been experimenting with this concept, introducing challenges for entrepreneurs to address common problems or inviting stakeholders to co-create new services.   Open innovation has gone from being a “buzzword” to another tool in the city officials’ toolbox.

Can transit-oriented development change travel behavior in cities?

Wanli Fang's picture
Photo: Marius Godoi/Shutterstock
It is pretty easy to understand how and why land use patterns around public transit stations can influence the way we move around the city.

As more and more people live and work in a neighborhood with a limited land area, it becomes increasingly challenging to drive around without encountering congestion or to find a parking space easily. In this situation, public transit and non-motorized transport (NMT) become attractive alternatives for people who otherwise are reluctant to give up the comfort and flexibility of driving.

Conversely, as street blocks get bigger, people may find it takes too long to access public transit stations, which discourages the use of public transport facilities.

As straightforward as the logic may sound, the nature and magnitude of such influence are yet to be evaluated with solid empirical evidence. To take a closer look at the linkages between land use and travel behavior, I decided to study the case of Boston in the United States. I chose Boston because it boasts an effective public transit system, and was one of the first American cities to embrace transit-oriented development (TOD), an urban planning approach that promotes compact and mixed use development around public transit facilities.

Of tigers and elephants: The rise of cities in Asia

Judy Baker's picture
Rush hour traffic in Mumbai, India. Photo: Adam Cohn/Flickr
Over the next decade and a half the world will add a staggering 1.1 billion people to its towns and cities. About one half of this urbanization will happen in the regions of East and South Asia.
 
If history is any guide, this growth in urban population will provide tremendous opportunities for increasing prosperity and livability. One can look at the successes of a few Asian cities such as Tokyo, Seoul, and Singapore to demonstrate how, with the assistance of good policies, urbanization and economic development go hand-in-hand. More generally, no major country has ever reached middle-income status without also experiencing substantial urbanization.
 
Yet cities can grow in different ways that will affect their competitiveness, livability, and sustainability. The more successful cities of Asia have been effective at creating opportunities, increasing productivity, fostering innovation, providing efficient and affordable services for residents, and enhancing public spaces to create vibrant and attractive places to live. But many, many, more cities have neglected fundamental investments in critical infrastructure and basic services, and have mismanaged land, environmental and social policies. This has resulted in traffic congestion, sprawl, slums, pollution, and crime.
 
Among the many complexities of urban development that have contributed to success, two critical factors stand out – investing in strategic urban planning, and in good urban governance.

How public spaces will help change cities for the better

Gunes Basat's picture
Photo: Wajahat Syed/Flickr
Photo: Wajahat Syed/Flickr
How to make cities more livable for people? How to create good, inclusive and accessible public spaces for all?

I’m not an urban planner nor an architect. I’m not a sociologist or an anthropologist either. But based on my personal experience, I can tell why public spaces are important in people’s lives. Just close your eyes for a second and think about your favorite public space. What do you like to do over there most? Why do you think you love it there?

I like them because they provide green breather spaces in the city and provide a place for recreation, enjoyment and a sense of belonging.

However, after hearing from many prominent urban development experts at a recent World Bank-led “Urbanscapes Symposium”, I quickly realized that public spaces are more than this. It was striking to me to see and learn that, for others, public spaces are places where livelihoods are conducted and are essential spaces for social interaction, especially for the poor.

In that respect, providing people with new public spaces, where they can feel invited, welcome and safe, can encourage them to spend more time outside and foster interaction among lower income communities.

It should come as no surprise, then, that planning standards recommend devoting 15-20 % of land in cities to public open space… Yet most cities are falling short of that goal: in the United States, for instance, 75% of the 100 largest cities do not meet that requirement.

So how can we work with cities to help them create a better urban environment and leverage the potential of public spaces?

Earth Day 2016: In a rapidly urbanizing world, cities hold the key to a greener future

Kevin Taylor's picture
Photo: Mricon/Flickr
This Earth Day, we have good reason to celebrate. It’s been a year that saw historic commitments along the path of our collective response to climate change and how we will live on the planet in this century.
 
In September, global leaders adopted the Sustainable Development Goals and are now working to put them into force to end poverty, while also combating climate change and ensuring that our future is prosperous for all people.
 
The Paris Agreement reached at COP 21 last December represents our best foot forward toward cutting carbon pollution and building resilience to the climate threats we face. And that momentum continues this week, as leaders from around the world gather in New York City to formally sign the Agreement to turn those promises into action.
 
Increasingly, that future will be more urbanized than ever before. 6 out of 10 people on the planet will live in cities by 2030. However, more than 820 million people live in slums and this number, sadly, is increasing. Fortunately, more and more local leaders are stepping up efforts to make cities more efficient, inclusive, resilient, and productive to address the global challenges of climate change, poverty, and inequality.
 
This year, we can celebrate another global commitment in the launch of the Compact of Mayors. Nearly 500 mayors and local officials have signed the Compact to mark their pledge to tackle climate change. Most of these leaders were in Paris for COP 21 to call on nations to follow their example.
 
It is critical to seize this momentum to turn the promise of the Paris Agreement, SDGs, and Compact of Mayors into reality. For climate change, we need to significantly reduce CO2 emissions as soon as possible, as the window for avoiding the worst impacts of climate change is rapidly closing.

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?

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