Syndicate content

Urban Development

d’Urban: Cities leading at COP17

Dan Hoornweg's picture

I learned this week that Durban got its name in 1835 from Sir Benjamin d’Urban, the first governor of the Cape Colony. His name seemed particularly apt as COP17’s urban-in-Durban yielded important contributions. During the first weekend at Durban City Hall, just next to the COP17 venue, 114 local governments signed the Durban Adaptation Charter, committing signatory cities to accelerate local adaptation efforts, including conducting risk assessments and more city-to-city cooperation. An impressive complement to last year’s Mexico City Pact that calls for similar efforts to measure and promote mitigation in participating cities. More than 200 cities have now signed on to the Mexico City Pact.

Smart Cities for Dummies

Dan Hoornweg's picture

I grimace when I see those ads to ‘Build a Smarter Planet’. It seems to me the planet was working pretty well before we started messing with it. But ‘Build a Smarter City’ – now that’s something I can get behind. Cities are humanity’s grandest creation. They reflect us, sometimes smart, sometimes not. Cities reflect our civilizations, and when working well cities are the most efficient way to help the poor, the fortunate and unfortunate, and the environment. And without a doubt every city in the world would benefit from smarter design and smarter management.

Coffee House, New Delhi, IndiaThere’s a bit of smoke and mirrors on some of today’s smart city claims. Selling more IT and sophisticated algorithms might help a few of the very fortunate cities. Building a smart-city suburb next to a very unsustainable city can yield important lessons but can also be a useful distraction. Being really smart about cities is improving basic service delivery to the 1 billion urban-poor now going without clean water, or the 2 billion without sanitation. And we need big-time smarts as we build cities over the next twenty years for an additional 2 billion residents – this time locking in energy savings and a high quality of life for all.

Community Connections in a Changing Climate: Engineers Without Borders and the World Bank

Dan Hoornweg's picture

Community Connections Campaign logoI have a confession: I’m an engineer. Wandering the halls of the World Bank it’s sometimes best to hide this. After all economists, and more recently, graduates of international policy programs, run the world, and ‘thinking like an economist’ is a powerful skill. Engineers are usually not the glitzy ones; we are more akin to beavers - hard working, somewhat plodding, and dutiful.

Engineers are so innocuous we don’t even have a good set of jokes like lawyers. Everyone who’s gone to university with engineers will have a story or two about too boisterous an engineer, maybe with insufficient social graces, who was painted purple or put a cow in the library as part of some initiation right. When engineering first started there were only two types, military and civil. Civil was a discipline, not a character trait.

Cities and the Human Spirit

Dan Hoornweg's picture

I’m not Catholic. Not even much of a practicing Christian, but I must confess I felt a little chill the other night walking past Köln’s Cathedral. Not from the cold of the night, nor from fear. My engaging German hosts had just informed me the Cathedral was built with sufficient grandeur to house the relics of the Three Magi spirited away from Milan in 1164. For hundreds of years pilgrims from around the world have converged on the Cathedral, adding to the 20,000 visitors a day. The site is sacred and steeped in history. For a few years it was even the tallest building in the world until eclipsed by the Washington Monument in 1884. I couldn’t escape the Cathedral’s history as we walked past it on this cool, clear October night.

A League of their Own: Cities Working Together for a Better World

Dan Hoornweg's picture

In 1845 Alexander Cartwright, a Brooklyn shipping clerk, drew up a formal set of rules and established the Knickerbockers Baseball Club. Before that baseball, or rounders, had players in different cities running in different directions, using different size balls on different size fields. Cities like Philadelphia and Boston all had their own rules, but in the end New York City’s rules prevailed and a common game was launched.

Cities now need a new league to foster cooperation and clearly pursue a set of common objectives. Cities count, and the world is increasingly counting on them. The world’s 600 largest cities make up more than 60% of the world’s economy. Even more striking, the world’s 50 largest cities, by population, are home to more than 500 million people, have an annual GDP more than $9.6 trillion (larger than China), and generate more than 2.6 billion tonnes of CO2 per year (more than the world’s 100 smallest countries combined, and if a country, these cities would be the third largest emitter).

Engineering Civility: A Lesson in Civics

Dan Hoornweg's picture

London Riots, CroydonCivil Engineering students graduate knowing at least three things: you can’t push a rope, gravity never takes a day off, and a three-legged table won’t wobble. They are now learning a fourth: You can’t build a city without civility.

Civil engineers are largely responsible for our built environment. Generally they’re a studious and busy lot; and they are about to get a lot busier – in the next twenty years they have to help build cityscapes for about 2 billion new urban residents. But today what’s needed even more than civil engineers is more civility. A few recent examples, big and small, come to mind.

Joburg's Transit Breakthrough

News story by Gail Jennings, Johannesburg

Informal ‘jitney’ associations transcend their warload past to become shareholders in South Africa’s first-ever Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system

JOHANNESBURG – Waiting, waiting, without facilities, still waiting, crammed, hemmed in, no brakes, no license, angry club-wielding drivers fighting for the most lucrative routes.  Weaving haphazardly through traffic at often frightening speeds. .. Scrabbling for the right coins, late, confusion, music that leaves your ears ringing, fists, bullets, escape... The stories travellers tell of their minibus taxi adventures.

Bus Rapit Transit in JohannesburgThis sort of  informal, unscheduled and unregulated taxi system still exists in most of Johannesburg.

But the 25km link between the central business district and Soweto with its 1.4 million residents is now plied by sleek red buses travelling on time and on schedule. Three years ago, the government launched Rea Vaya (“we are going”), South Africa’s first bus rapid transit system (BRT).  Rea Vaya has replaced the ramshackle minibuses with modern vehicles and an entirely different, formal operating system.

Global High-Tech City Model

News story by Hannah Bae, Seoul

Near Seoul, a new city rises from the mud flats, aiming to become a world model of sensor-activated, computer-driven management of an entire city.

New construction in Songdo, South KoreaSONGDO, South Korea – Designed as a “city within a city” – in this case, the port city of Incheon, just west of South Korea’s capital in Seoul – the Songdo urban development is expected to become a bustling hub of efficient global commerce, education and research and development.

What happens when you build a city from scratch – or, rather, from mud flats?

The result isn’t instantaneous.  Right now – the spring of 2011 – the reality, following more than $10 billion of the estimated eventual $35 billion invested over seven and a half years of construction, is clusters of skyscrapers amid a giant construction site, only just starting to show signs of life. 

However, 2011 will be a big year for Songdo, as the city takes major steps toward becoming one of the most technologically advanced urban spaces in the world.

Model Disaster Preparedness

News story by Susana Seijas, Mexico City

Recalling its monstrous 1985 earthquake, Mexico City trains 10,000 of its civil servants in disaster recovery techniques.

MEXICO CITY – Japan’s cataclysmic March 11 earthquake and tsunami have evoked painful memories of Mexico City’s 1985 quake and made many here reflect on how well prepared the city is for a similar disaster.

earthquake damage“You can never really be ready for a disaster like the 1985 earthquake, or a catastrophe of that magnitude,” says Carlos Morales Cienfuegos, a search and rescue volunteer who pulled people from Mexico City’s crumbled buildings.

Improving Slums: Stories from Sao Paulo

Written by Fernando Serpone Bueno and Veridiana Sedeh, São Paulo

SÃO PAULO – Seventh largest among the world's metropolises and the linchpin of Brazil's booming economy, São Paulo presents a globally relevant case study of stepped-up efforts — but continued deep challenges — if cities are to correct the deep poverty and environmental perils of massive slum settlements.

Favela in BrazilClose to a third of São Paulo's 11 million people — in a metropolitan region of almost 20 million — live in slum-like conditions. There are some 1,600 favelas (private or public lands that began as squatter settlements), 1,100 "irregular" land subdivisions (developed without legally recognized land titles), and 1,900 cortiços (tenement houses, usually overcrowded and in precarious state of repair).

Pages